..Accused him of introducing ‘’alien practices’’
The seemingly rigid posture of the new judge handling the trial of former COCOBOD boss and two others, is setting him on a collision course with lawyers, as he continues to awe many in the courtroom.
The High Court Justice Aboagye Tandoh who appears to be in a hurry to conclude the case has been accused of introducing “alien practices”, further heightening the already politically polarised trial.
The former COCOBOD Chief Executive, Dr Stephen Opuni and businessman Seidu Agongo, as well as Agricult Ghana Limited, are facing 27 charges, including willfully causing financial loss to the state in contravention of the Public Procurement Act during the purchase of Lithovit liquid fertiliser between 2014 and 2016.
The highly politicized trial which has seen claims and counterclaims from the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the opposing National Democratic Congress (NDC) has gone through the hands of two judges already – one retired, whilst the other; Justice Kwasi Anokye Gyimah, was controversially transferred – with Justice Tandoh, being the third person to sit on the case.
The judge hit the ‘ground running’ when he took over the case in July this year, issuing several orders to the parties in the case devoid of any consultation or leaning a little towards lawyers in the case, as if their opinions don’t matter in the successful discharge of his duty.
Unlike the two previous judges who sat on the case and magnanimously conferred with prosecution and defence lawyers before settling on convenient dates, Justice Aboagye Tandoh from the views of the Dr Opuni and Alhaji Agongo, would have none of that.
For instance, on Thursday, October 12, 2023, the judge adopted and shockingly announced 40 sitting dates without looking at the bar – for their input or concerns if any.
Immediately after announcing his chosen dates, Justice Tandoh, adjourned the case and swiftly dashed to his chambers, much to the lawyers’ chagrin.
Parties have to report to court every weekday, starting from Friday, October 13, 2023, until December 7, 2023, for a new set of dates to be taken.
In effect, the trial is going to be heard on a daily basis.
Justice Tandoh, who was transferred from Winneba, the Central Region to the national capital to handle the case, first gave lawyers of the accused persons a shot of his hard-nosed dose when he announced the adoption of proceedings of the previous courts on Tuesday, July 25.
“I have examined and satisfied myself with the records and proceedings of the case of the Republic vs Stephen Kwabena Opuni and two others. I will therefore go ahead and adopt the proceedings as recorded by the other court. That is my ruling,” Justice Tandoh declared on July 25.
But counsel for Dr Opuni, lawyer Samuel Codjoe, expressed surprise at the judge’s decision, saying it was “alien to the practice” and “has no basis in law”.
He tried, albeit unsuccessful, to get the court to rescind its decision on October 12 through a motion.
“My Lord, it is our submission that this ruling [on July 25] has no basis in law, and that this court erred in coming to the conclusion to adopt the proceedings in the way in which it did, that is, by not going through the proceedings with the representatives of the parties to agree what constitutes the record,” counsel said.
According to him, “the parties have the legal and constitutional rights to correct any error in the record and in fact the court itself is required to ensure that the records are correct.
“Indeed at the Court of Appeal when the records of appeal were compiled, the record of appeal contains the entire proceedings of the case, [but] we drew the attention of the court to numerous errors, mistakes in the transcript. This record [with the errors] we submit is what this court has adopted.”
On October 13, when the court reconvened, Justice Tandoh, was not enthused that the seventh defence witness was not in court for the continuation of the case.
But counsel for Dr Opuni pointed out to him that the development would have been avoided, but for the fact that “we didn’t have the opportunity of going through the proceedings with your lordship”.
He stated further, “We add that yesterday (October 12) as we were not given any opportunity with respect to the date and due to the fact that just after the court read the ruling, it rose, we were unable to inform the court about this fact.”
The judge who could not afford to wait for the Registrar of the court to inform the subpoenaed witness about the resumption of hearing after the long legal vacation, directed the first accused person to call his next witness on Monday, October 16, 2023. This means the seventh defence witness would mount the box later to continue with his testimony after the eighth defence witness has finished giving evidence within a period he decided for the parties.
A visibly angry counsel for Seidu Agongo, Benson Nutsukpui, could not fathom the posture of the judge towards the bar.
“Even the question of dates we cannot discuss? This is strange,” he muttered in disbelief.
He had cause to later approach prosecution and enquire from them, if they had even seen the kind of attitude being displayed by Justice Tandoh in their many years of practice.