It is "unjust and unfair for so-called high-profile criminal cases" involving fraud, money laundering and willfully causing financial loss to the state "to drag on for years" while similar cases filed against "perceived ordinary members of society are concluded within six months to one year", Attorney General Godfred Dame has observed.
In a speech at the annual conference of magistrates and judges, Mr Dame said: "A robust legal system underpinned by the rule of law goes hand in hand with economic prosperity and bolsters the confidence of the people to deter the perpetration of wrongdoing".
He noted: "A court system in which summary trials of criminal cases can last for more than five years militates against the right to a fair trial, defeats the right to justice and must be looked at again".
This is not the first time Mr Dame has expressed such a concern.
In February this year, he said he finds it unacceptable and unfair that criminal trials involving high-profile personalities, such as the GHS217-million causing financial loss trial involving the former CEO of the Ghana Cocoa Board, Dr Stephen Kwabena Opuni, to still be in court after six years.
“I find it highly unreasonable and unfair for so-called high profile criminal cases involving simple summary offences of fraud, wilfully causing financial loss to the state and money laundering to drag on for years in our courts while similar cases filed against perceived ordinary members of society are quickly or rapidly concluded most of the times within about six months to one year”, Mr Dame told journalists on Thursday, 2 February 2023.
“We have witnessed the failure of the High Court to resolve the Opuni trial for the past six years. This is simply unacceptable”, he noted.
“It is unacceptable for such a case to stay at the court for six years when other more complex cases of murder, secession and other offences bordering on the security of the state are more speedily resolved”, he insisted.
“The Judiciary clearly must play its part in the eradication of corruption,” he stated.
Dr Opuni is being tried together with businessman Seidu Agongo in connection with the supply of agrochemicals to Cocobod, which the state claims was fraudulently done.
The fertiliser was procured from Agricult Company Limited, which belongs to Mr Agongo.
The three have been on trial since 2017.
They are facing 27 counts of causing financial loss to the state and are on a GHS300,000 self-recognisance bail.
Their passports have been taken from them.
The trial judge, Clemence Honyenuga of the Supreme Court, reached his compulsory retirement age of 70 years in September 2022.
The Chief Justice, however, granted him a limited time of six months, in accordance with the 1992 Constitution, for him to close the trial.
That time period expires in March 2023.
In March 2022, Justice Clemence Honyenuga expressed some frustration that the case was dragging on.
He said he “over-tolerated” the cross-examination of witnesses by the defence lawyers of Dr SOpuni and Mr Seidu Agongo.
In a back-and-forth argument with Mr Nutifafa Nutsukui, who held brief for Mr Benson Nutsukpui, counsel for Mr Agongo and his firm Agricult Company Limited (Second and Third Accused Persons) on Thursday, 17 March 2022, Justice Honynuga asked: “How long will it take you to cross-examine DW1?”
“A minimum of four sittings”, Mr Nutsukpui answered, arguing: “My Lord, this is somebody who’s been on the Board for eight years and because of his various roles, we believe that he’s key; the person that we could get some of the evidence from, so, considering he testified in chief for about five sittings … my Lord, we would have thought that in the minimum, at least four sittings”.
Justice Honyenuga then said, “No”, insisting: “I’m going to give you two sittings”.
Asked by Justice Honyenuga if he was going to cross-examine the defence witness on every word of his evidence-in-chief, Mr Nutsupkui responded: “My Lord, [in] our previous work in this court, we have not abused the process of cross-examination”.
Justice Honyenuga, however, disagreed, saying: “Yes, and that is the advantage you are taking of the whole situation. Yes, that is the advantage because I was so liberal, gave you a lot of time; you could cross-examine for months, you do this and that and that is the advantage you are taking now”.
“Yes, you are taking advantage of it?”, the judge emphasised, adding: “If I had limited you right from the get-go: cross-examination, one day, you’re to finish; if you don’t finish, well, that is it; through the cross-examination two days, three days, if you were to finish, that would have been it but I tolerated, I over-tolerated all of you; yes, especially if you’ll be frank to yourselves, I over-tolerated you, especially defence counsel. Yes”.