The Accra Fast Track High Court yesterday refused to stay the execution of its judgement which outlawed private lotto operations in the country.
In its ruling, the court, presided over by Mr Justice K. A. Ofori-Atta, said “the plaintiffs were not able to assert their right to the law of equity”.
The Ghana Lotto Operators Association (GLOA) and six others had asserted that their rights to free market activity had been impinged upon by the National Lottery Authority (NLA) following the passage of the National Lottery Authority (NLA) Act 2006, Act 722.
The plaintiffs filed for stay of execution of the court's decision pending the determination of an appeal against the banning of their operations, but the court, after carefully studying the application, dismissed it.
The decision was preceded by hot verbal exchanges between counsel for the plaintiffs, Mr Aurelius Awuku, and counsel for the defendants, Mr Kizito Beyuo.
According to Mr Awuku, his clients were not aware that the matter had been transferred from Mr Justice Edward Asante's court to Mr Justice Ofori-Atta's court and insisted that the proper thing must be done.
While Mr Awuku maintained that the matter was not properly laid before the court and insinuated that his colleague had seen to the transfer of the case from the court where it was originally laid, Mr Beyuo thought otherwise and accused his colleague of using populist tactics to win a lost battle.
According to him, his clients were not against Mr Ofori-Atta hearing the case but wanted the proper thing to be done and further prayed the court to wash its hands off the case.
Mr Beyuo expressed concern over plaintiffs' attitude and insisted that “the first thing you should have done was to enquire about what happened before making wild allegations”.
He also insisted that his colleague apologised to him for making wild allegations.
He explained that the matter was initially before Mr Justice Asante as a vacation judge and not as a substantive judge, but Mr Awuku insisted that the registrar had no power to transfer a matter from one judge to another.
For his part, Mr Beyuo stated that the registrar acted on the instructions of the Chief Justice, but Mr Awuku maintained that there was no order from the Chief Justice, adding, “If you say there was an order, produce it”.
Mr Beyuo pleaded with Mr Awuku not to soil their friendship when Mr Awuku insinuated that Mr Beyuo had a hand in the matter being laid before Mr Justice Ofori-Atta.
“Please, do not soil our friendship. I take an exception to that statement. I demand an apology,” he said, but Mr Awuku was indifferent.
The judge, then moved in and stated that the registrar had informed him in his chambers that he (registrar) had been instructed to bring the matter to his (judge's) court.
Mr Beyuo got up again and insisted Mr Awuku should withdraw his allegations, because his reputation mattered to him more than anything else in his 15-year career as a lawyer.
Mr Awuku remained adamant, to which Mr Beyuo said “That is the end of our friendship.”
Mr Justice Ofori-Atta, accordingly, overruled the objection raised by Mr Awuku and maintained that his conscience was clear.
He then proceeded to dismiss the application for stay of execution of the court's decision to outlaw the operation of private lotto.
After the court's decision, Mr Beyuo then apologised to the court for his outburst, after which Mr Awuku also apologised to him (Mr Beyuo).
Mr Justice Ofori-Atta then advised Mr Beyuo to control his emotions, while he called on Mr Awuku to desist from making unfounded allegations.
“I work with my conscience,” Mr Justice Ofori-Atta concluded.
The GLOA and the other plaintiffs, namely, Obiri Asare and Sons Limited, Rambel Enterprises Limited, Dan Multipurpose Trading Enterprise Limited, Agrop Association Limited, Star Lotto Limited and From-Home Enterprises, had sought to question the constitutionality of the National Lottery Authority (NLA) Act 2006, Act 722.
They had, therefore, prayed for a declaration that the directive from the NLA to private lotto operators to surrender machines or equipment used for the operation of lottery to the director-general by August 14, 2007 was unconstitutional, illegal and unreasonable.
But the court held otherwise. The plaintiffs then filed an appeal against the court's decision.
The appellants stated in their motion for stay of execution that the judgement banning their operation was "wrong in law and an improper exercise of discretion”.
According to the plaintiffs, "the subsequent dismissal of our action raises serious questions of law and fact, which will have to be considered by the appellate court".
The Fast Track High Court's judgement banning private lotto followed an application by the NLA, which prayed the court to dismiss the plaintiffs' suit on the premise that the Supreme Court had declared the Lotto Act constitutional and, for that reason, there was no basis for the substantive suit to continue at the lower court.