Justice Clemence Honyenuga has dismissed an application filed against his authority to continue sitting on the Cocobod trial after attaining the constitutionally compulsory retirement age of 70 years in September this year.
The application was filed by the first accused person in the case, Dr Stephen Opuni, who is the former chief executive officer of the Ghana Cocoa Board.
Dr Opuni is standing trial with businessman Seidu Agongo and the former’s agrochemical company Agricult, in connection with the alleged fraudulent procurement of a substandard fertiliser, Lithovit, which, according to the Attorney General, caused financial loss of GHS271 million to the state.
Justice Honyenuga has been sitting on the case for the past four years.
Despite hitting the retirement age of 70, Chief Justice Anin-Yeboah granted him an extension to conclude the trial.
Dr Opuni’s lawyers, however, argued in court that the “power to extend the tenure of a Supreme Court judge is not exercised by the Chief Justice, who is not the appointing authority.”
“The only person who can grant an extension to the tenure of your lordship as contained in article 145(4) is the President and not the Chief Justice”, Lead Counsel Samuel Cudjoe insisted.
In his view, the Chief Justice “cannot grant an extension to the tenure of a judge who has attained the mandatory constitutional retirement age.”
The state, through the prosecution, however, argued to the contrary.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa, counter-argued: “It is our case that the CJ has power under the 1992 Constitution to grant power to a Justice of the Superior Court to sit for a limited period of time”.
Borrowing a leaf from articles 139(c) and 145(2)(a) and (4) of the 1992 Constitution to drive home the state’s point, the DPP said: “In very simple terms, this means that your lordship, on attaining the age of 70 years, may continue in office for a period not exceeding six months in relation to the case of the Republic v Stephen Opuni, Seidu Agongo and Agricult Ghana Ltd. that was commenced before you, prior to your attainment of the age of 70.”
She, thus, noted that there was “no ambiguity or confusion as to whether it is the president or the chief justice who grants an extension to a judge previously determining a case to continue with that matter for a limited period”.
After dismissing the application, Justice Honyenuga adjourned the case to 16 November 2022 for continuation.
In his ruling, he said: “The Chief Justice as the Administrative Head of the Judiciary has the power under the Constitution to grant an extension to a retiring Judge.”
On Thursday, 28 July 2022, Justice Honyenuga, who has been sitting on the case as an additional high court judge, announced in court: “In pursuant to Article 112(2) of the Constitution, 1992, the chief justice has granted me a limited time to conclude this case. In the circumstances, this court shall, in addition, sit on Tuesdays at 11 am for early disposal of this four-year-old case. In view of the pending vacation, the case is adjourned to October 3, 2022, at 10 am for continuation”.