The Attorney General, Godfred Yeboah Dame, has filed an appeal against the decision of an Accra High Court to restart the trial of former Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr. Stephen Opuni and Seidu Agongo, all over again, arguing that the decision violates the principles of fair trial.
Mr. Dame, in a notice of appeal filed at the Court of Appeal, argues that the trial judge, Justice Kwasi Anokye Gyimah, misdirected himself in the application of the principles regarding the adoption of evidence in a trial.
Dr. Opuni and private businessman, Seidu Agongo, are accused of causing over GH¢217 million financial loss to the state and have been on trial at an Accra High Court since March 2018, charged with 27 offences.
The prosecution, led by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, called seven witnesses to prove the charges against the accused persons who were extensively cross-examined by defence lawyers, some spanning about six months.
The prosecution closed its case on March 30, 2021 and Dr. Opuni has since opened his defence and called seven out of the eleven witnesses he intended to rely on to prove his innocence.
But the case had to be reassigned to another judge following the retirement of Justice Honyenuga (rtd) and the expiration of the six months extension granted him by the Chief Justice in accordance with the 1992 Constitution.
Justice Gyimah, in a ruling on whether to adopt the old proceedings or start the trial afresh, had held that it would be unfair for the court to ignore the allegations made against the previous judge and adopt the previous proceedings as they were.
He said the law requires fairness towards an accused person and the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty should not be overlooked by the court.
The judge also pointed out that in order for the court to have a first-hand information in the trial and pay attention to the demeanour of witnesses, the court will start the trial from scratch.
The Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mr. Dame, has filed a notice of appeal and avers that the trial judge exercised his discretion wrongly in arriving at a conclusion that he “will be saddled with the same suspicions and allegations of unfairness levelled against the current state of proceedings”, which have already been dealt with by the Supreme Court.
The AG argues that the judge ignored the point that the only motion pending before the trial court was an application for the previous judge to recuse himself, which had been rendered moot by the judge’s retirement and subsequent placement of the case before the new judge.
Again, the notice of appeal avers that the new judge “in relying on irrelevant factors already disposed of by Superior Courts, unfairly gave the accused persons a second bite at the cherry.”
“The decision of the court to start the trial de novo (afresh) has occasioned a miscarriage of justice as it will hinder an efficient trial of the accused persons in the instant case,” the AG avers.
Again, the notice of appeal also argues that the ruling of the court was contrary to the principles of fair trial contained in Article 19 of the 1992 Constitution and as decided by the Supreme Court in the Republic vs Eugene Baffoe-Bonnie case in 2020.
“The learned Judge erred, in the circumstances of the instant case, in placing undue premium on the need to assess the demeanour of the witnesses called at the trial,” he pointed out.
The notice of appeal is, therefore, seeking an order setting aside the ruling directing that the trial be started afresh.
The notice of appeal is also asking for an order that the evidence led at the trial so far be adopted by the trial judge.