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Minutes after securing a favourable judgement from the Court of Appeal in the Opuni and Agongo cases, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice announced he is heading to Parliament soon with a new Bill for Ghanaian judges to adopt proceedings in criminal trials in the event that another judge is unable to conclude a matter before him or her.
This, according to Godfred Yeboah Dame, is aimed at improving the country’s criminal jurisprudence, implying that Justice Kwasi Anokye Gyimah, who has since been kicked out of the high-profile criminal case by Chief Justice Gertrude Torkornoo in a surprise administrative move, simply exercised a judicial discretion he was empowered to.
Interestingly, the lead convenor of the #FixtheCountry* movement, Oliver Barker-Vormawor, has since described Mr. Dame, as a “very lucky man”.
“Anytime the Attorney-General loses a political case in Court, the judge is changed, and he wins again. He is a very lucky man,” he wrote on Twitter yesterday.
This follows reports that Justice Aboagye Tandoh of the Winneba High Court will now preside over the Opuni trial.
Speaking to journalists after the Court of Appeal verdict, Mr. Dame said, “I think that it is actually backward with all respect for a trial which has advanced to this stage for an order to be made that we should start de novo (afresh) adding, “It will amount to giving the evidence twice; it will amount to giving parties of the matter a second bite of the cherry, and I think that it is improper.”
Justice Gyimah, the judge who took over the trial of Dr. Stephen Opuni and Asiedu Agongo from Justice Clemence Honyenuga, had come under attack from the Attorney General for insisting on starting the case afresh in the interest of a “fair trial” because it would be unfair for him to adopt a proceeding that was “saddled” with numerous allegations.
“It would be unfair for the court to ignore the allegations and adopt the previous proceedings as it is” adding, “In order for the court to have a firsthand information of the trial and the demeanour of witnesses, the court will start the trial ‘De Novo’, Justice Gyimah had said on April 4, 2023, after taking over from Justice Honyenuga, who had also enjoyed a six-month post-retirement contract to conclude the case but could not.
Justice Gyimah stated, “If I adopt the proceedings, I am basically adopting every act and decision that has been taken by the previous judge in the matter, and I will be saddled with the same suspicions and allegations of unfairness that have been levelled against the current state of the proceedings.”
He made references to Section 80 (2) (a) of NRCD 323, which states that one of the factors a court is enjoined to look at when assessing the credibility of a witness is the witness’s demeanour.
“Much as that may be the right position, in a criminal trial where the liberty of the accused is at stake and where the accused is by law presumed innocent and also entitled to a fair trial, any factor, however minimal or insignificant its effect, that will enhance the opportunities for the fair trial of an accused person should not be overlooked by the court.”
On Monday, July 3, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the Accra High Court to conduct the trial of Dr. Opuni, a former appointee of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in the John Evans Atta Mills and the John Mahama governments, afresh.
A three-member panel of the court delivered a unanimous verdict, stating that the trial High Court had erred in its decision not to adopt the previous proceedings of the six-year trial when a new judge assumed responsibility for the case.
This decision by the Court of Appeal signifies that the trial will now proceed based on the existing proceedings and evidence gathered throughout the duration of the trial.
The reversal of the Accra High Court’s decision indicates a step towards the continuation of the legal proceedings against Dr. Opuni and Mr. Agongo without the need to start from scratch.
A three-member Court of Appeal panel presided over by Justice Philip Bright Mensah, in a unanimous decision, ordered the High Court hearing the case to adopt proceedings from the trial conducted by the previous judge who heard the case from 2018 until March 2023.
According to the Court of Appeal panel, which included Justice Ernest Owusu Dapaah and Justice Jennifer Abena Dadzie, the decision of Justice Gyimah not to adopt the proceedings from the previous court amounted to a misdirection of the Court’s powers.
The court further concluded that considering the circumstances of the case in question (the Republic versus Stephen Kwabena Opuni and two others), justice will be better served if the proceedings are adopted for the new trial judge to continue from where the previous court left off.
“The decision of the High Court is referred to this Court, and the appeal is allowed in its entirety. The proceedings of the previous court presided over by Justice Clemence Honyenuga be adopted by the High Court differently constituted, and the registrar of the High Court is ordered to do so accordingly,” the Court of Appeal ruled.
After the proceedings in court, Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, told journalists that he believes the Court of Appeal decision will ensure fairness to both sides of the case (the prosecution and the defence).
He also indicated that his Office has drafted a bill that is aimed at improving the country’s criminal jurisprudence, and one of the provisions in the new Bill addresses the issue of adopting proceedings in criminal trials by other courts in the event that another trial court or judge is unable to conclude a matter before them.
Meanwhile, the lead convenor of the #FixtheCountry* movement, Oliver Barker-Vormawor, has described the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Dame, as a ‘lucky man’.
According to him, the Attorney General is so lucky because he has found a way to rewin all the political cases he lost in court in the past.
In a tweet shared yesterday, Tuesday, July 4, 2023, Barker-Vormawor said that Godfred Dame somehow re-wins cases he lost in the past when the judges are changed.
“Anytime the Attorney-General loses a political case in Court, the judge is changed, and he wins again. He is a very lucky man,” he wrote.
Barker-Vormawor’s remarks come after the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the Accra High Court to conduct a fresh trial for former COCOBOD boss and businessman Seidu Agongo.
The state is accusing Dr. Opuni and Alhaji Agongo of allegedly causing over GH¢217 million in financial loss to the state.
Justice Aboagye Tandoh of the Winneba High Court has now been appointed to preside over the case, making him the third judge on the case after the first judge, Justice Honyenuga, retired and handed over to the now-transferred Justice Gyimah.
Justice Gyimah, who is described by many who have encountered him as tough and principled, is to be replaced by Justice Aboagye Tandoh.