The Court of Appeal has dismissed repeat applications for stay of proceedings filed by a former Chief Executive Officer of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Stephen Opuni and private businessman, Seidu Agongo, who are on trial for allegedly causing financial loss to the state.
A three-member panel presided over by Justice Henry Anthony Kwofie, in its ruling, held that Dr. Opuni and Agongo failed to raise any exceptional circumstances to necessitate a stay of proceedings in their trial at the high court.
The two had filed separate applications before the appellate court seeking to halt their trial before an Accra High Court where they are standing trial for causing over GH¢217 million financial loss to the state.
They wanted the court of appeal to halt the trial at the high court pending the determination of an appeal against the decision of the trial court to dismiss their respective applications for submission of no case.
The two, together with Agricult Ghana Limited, owned by Agongo, were ordered by Justice Clemence Jackson Honyenuga, a Supreme Court judge, sitting as an additional high court judge, to open their defence respectively after he found that the prosecution had made a prima facie case against them, thereby dismissing their applications for a submission of no case.
But, lawyers for the accused persons have gone to the Court of Appeal to challenge the court’s order and consequently filed an application for stay of proceedings at the high court pending the determination of the appeal at the appellate court.
Samuel Codjoe, Counsel for Dr. Opuni, had argued that the court erred in its decision to reject some 18 exhibits tendered by the defence through the prosecution witnesses, basing its decision on the Ekow Russell versus the Republic case as decided by the Supreme Court.
He had argued that “the court erred when on its own it rejected evidence which had been admitted without objection during trial by the same court and not by an appellate court as was in the Ekow Russell case.”
Nutifafa Nutsukpui, counsel for Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Limited, also had argued that all the exhibits that were rejected and marked as ‘rejects’, had all been tendered without objection and according to the Supreme Court in the Edward Nasser case that signified consent of the other party that the hearsay evidence be so admitted.
He told the court that the effect of rejecting those exhibits was that they have been put beyond the use of the applicants as they have been marked as ‘rejects’ while at the same time they are being called upon to open their defence in respect of matters that have been spoken to by those exhibits in their favour.
He added that “the sensitivity or otherwise of a matter is not a legally recognised ground for ordering an accused person to open their defence in a criminal matter and yet that was one of the reasons the court gave for its order, so we believe the Court of Appeal should be afforded the opportunity to examine these matters.”
The application was opposed by prosecution led by Mrs. Evelyn Keelson, a Chief State Attorney, who argued that the applicants “woefully failed to establish the exceptional circumstances for the grant of stay of proceedings and are just relying on some out of court statement instead of opening their cases to tell their own stories.”
She continued that the applicants have not established any basis at all for the court to stay proceedings because there are no exceptional circumstances.
“My Lord, the applicants have not raised any issue about your ruling which said that the prosecution had made a prima facie case against them requiring them to open their defence in respect of the various offences. The only issue they have all raised is the rejection of exhibits and it is our submission that this honourable court had the power to disregard evidence which had been wrongly admitted and there are several authorities on this matter. The exhibits are clearly hearsay statements and Sections 117 and 118 of the Evidence Act are clear on this,” Mrs. Keelson argued.
The court in its ruling dismissed the application and further ordered the accused persons to open their defence.
Court of Appeal
They then filed a repeat application for stay of proceedings at the Court of Appeal pending the determination of the substantive appeal.
But the Court of Appeal dismissed both applications on ground that the accused persons failed to rise any exceptional circumstances.
The court also told the accused person to pursue the appeal as no injustice will be occasioned if the trial continued.
This means Dr. Opuni as the first accused person, will open his defence on June 18, 2021 as earlier ordered by the trial court.
BY Gibril Abdul Razak