The Chief Justice, Kwasi Anin-Yeboah yesterday defied the rule of natural justice by declining a request by Dr. Stephen Opuni, former Chief Executive of COCOBOD, to allow another judge to sit on a recusal motion brought against Justice Clemence Honyenuga.
The legal maxim “nemo iudex in sua causa” in Latin meaning “no man should be judge in his own case”, is universally held as a bedrock principle of natural justice and constitutionalism but this has been defied by the current Chief Justice despite the stance of one of his predecessor; Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Woods; the first female head of Ghana’s judiciary.
Justice Honyenuga, a Supreme Court judge hearing the trial of Dr. Opuni and two others as additional a High Court judge, had been accused of being bias and showing open hostility in a motion filed by the medical doctor asking him to recuse himself. The applicant subsequently petitioned the CJ to stop Honyenuga from hearing the case brought against him.
In affidavit in support of the motion, the applicant noted: “That I state that unless the learned trial judge recuses himself from hearing this matter, I would be denied a fair trial since I would be prevented from conducting the case in a way which I am entitled to by making references in this instance to specific portions of the ruling.
“That I state further that the fact that the learned trial judge is biased is further evidenced from his conduct of the 2nd day of December, 2021, where the learned trial judge, even though aware of the fact that I had the constitutional right of deciding the mode of calling witnesses, initially objected to DW1 giving evidence. This was most unfortunate in that at no point in time during the presentation of the case by Prosecution did he seek in any way whatsoever and or howsoever to instruct on the sequence of calling their witnesses.”
Counsel for Dr. Opuni, Samuel Codjoe premised the petition to the Chief Justice on a ruling by former Chief Justice, Mrs. Georgina Wood which talks about the impropriety of a judge to sit on his own case.
“My Lord, I will also refer My Lord, to the case of The Republic Vs High Court, Exparte Agbeshie Awusi II and it is reported in 2003 to 2004 Vol 2 of SCGLR at page 907. And My Lord, Wood JSC as she then was held that in the case where allegations of bias is raised the Judge should not sit on the motion which seeks his recusal and that if the judge sat on such a case, he will be a judge in his own case and that will be a breach of the rules of natural justice on page 919.”
But the Chief Justice in a reply to the petitioner indicated that nothing stops Justice Honyenuga from being a judge in his own case.
Reading the response of Justice Anin-Yeboah to the court on yesterday, Thursday, December 16, Justice Honyenuga stated categorically that he has been “authorized” by the CJ to hear the pending motion.
The reply written on behalf of the Chief Justice, the Judicial Secretary, Justice Cynthia Pamela Addo, noted:
“I have been directed by His Lordship the Chief Justice to inform you that he has carefully studied the contents of your petition and has not found any allegations of likelihood of bias against the trial judge not to be fair in considering his right to determine an objection raised against his presence in the case.
“Additionally, His Lordship the Chief Justice has indicated that it would not be in the interest of justice to transfer the motion to another judge to determine whether the judge is fit to sit on the motion.
“For the above-mentioned reasons His Lordship the Chief Justice has refused the petition for transfer.”
Based on CJ’s response, Justice Honyenuga asked lawyer Codjoe to move the motion, which he did.
Justice Honyenuga was not convinced by the reasons and authorities referred to by Dr. Opuni’s counsel to recuse himself, and upheld the opposition of the prosecution led by Chief State Attorney Evelyn Keelson and subsequently dismissed the motion called Dr Opuni a liar, someone with an eyesight issues and suffering hallucination.