Opuni’s trial: CJ must review decision to change original panel — LINSOD appeals

Lawyers in Search of Democracy, (LINSOD), a grouping of private legal practitioners in Ghana has expressed worry over Chief Justice, Getrude Torkornoo’s decision to change to the panel handling an appeal case filed by former COCOBOD CEO, Dr Stephen Opuni in the COCOBOD case against him and businessman, Seidu Agongo.

The panel’s alteration on the day of judgement has left many legal experts shocked about what could have triggered the last-minute decision amidst growing suspicion over possible manipulation to favour government.

Th original Panel comprised Justice Mariama Owusu (Presiding), and Justices Yaw Darko Asare, Emmanuel Yonny Kulendi, George Kingsley Koomson, and Henry A. Kwofie. However, only two out of the five justices made it to the new panel.
The newly constituted panel shall be presided over by the Chief Justice herself, together with four other Supreme Court judges: Justice Mariama Owusu, who presided at the first instance, Justice Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, Justice Yaw Darko Asare, and Justice Ernest Gaewu.

Lawyers in Search of Democracy, fears the latest development, after earlier controversies on the adjudication of the COCOBOD case, which has dragged since March 2018 could be abused in future.

In a statement, the group said…………..“We learned yesterday about the sudden alteration, by the Chief Justice, of the original panel of Supreme Court Justices, which was constituted to hear the appeal brought by Dr. Stephen Opuni in his criminal trial currently at the High Court. We were not surprised by the public outrage that greeted the sudden change of the panel; however, our attention was drawn later today to a public statement by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice seeking to defend the change of the original panel by the Chief Justice of the Republic, and we, as lawyers, seeking to promote the rule of law, democracy, and good governance in Ghana, feel compelled to add our voices to, and raise a germane concern about the sudden change in the composition of the panel, which we think is unreasonable, and not in the best interest of justice.”

The legal experts, advocating for the principles of fairness and democracy, further said sudden change, which they deem unreasonable, could undermine fair trial.

” We hope that our concern shall be considered by the leadership of the judiciary as important feedback, which shall be helpful for the judiciary in charting a course that shall ensure greater justice for all Ghanaians irrespective of their ethnic or political affiliation. A good-faith attention to our concerns shall also demonstrate responsiveness of the judiciary to the cries of the general public, and shall instil, not only decency, but greater confidence in our justice system, and boost the democratic credentials for our nation as a whole.”

They assert that such a move undermines the confidence of citizens in the judiciary and calls into question the impartiality of the legal system.
It added … “While the Court in all sincerity may not be pursuing a course in the interest of the regime in power, it is imperative to ensure that the general public does not have a different perception as a result of the conduct and decisions of the courts especially in political matters that are brought by the government against citizens of different political affiliations than the party in power. Unfortunately, it appears this is the situation presently, and our efforts through this statement and more is to turn the tides and neutralize this dangerous perception.”
Amidst mounting criticism, calls are being made for the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision and reinstate the original panel to ensure transparency and uphold the rule of law.

“We think there is plenty of time for the Supreme Court to reconsider the decision to change the original panel in the appeal. We are aware that the Court has already given a date for judgment, but we believe that if it shall bring fairness and greater justice to all without question, the Court must nevertheless recall the case and reinstate the original panel to continue the trial to end.

It is our hope that the Court shall respectfully give the due attention to our concern and act in a manner that shall encourage us to provide more feedback to it in the advancement of true rule of law and democracy in Ghana.”

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