A High Court Judge, Justice Amos Wuntah Wuni, was prohibited by the Supreme Court from presiding over the contempt trial of Mr Kennedy Ohene Agyapong because the apex court concluded that he was bias towards the legislator.
According to the Supreme Court, Justice Wuni exhibited bias due to the use of the phrase ‘severely punished’ in a contempt summons to Mr Agyapong, who is the New Patriotic Party (NPP) Member of Parliament for Assin Central.
It is the view of the court that by using the words “severely punished”, Justice Wuni indicated how he intended to punish the MP even before the trial commenced.
“It demonstrates prejudice, bias and in fact amounts to grave judicial indiscretion for a judge to form an opinion on the severity or leniency of punishment to impose on a person who is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” the court held.
This was contained in a 31-page judgement detailing the reasons why a five-member panel of the apex court prohibited Justice Wuni from presiding over the MP’s contempt trial.
The unanimous decision was written by Justice Yonny Kulendi.
Other members of the panel were Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, who presided, Justices Yaw Appau, Gabriel Pwamang and Issifu Omoro Tanko Amadu.
However reading through the Supreme Court (SC)ruling on the certiorari & prohibition application brought by MP, Kennedy Ohene Agyapong.
Among the issues were touched on is
a)Whether or not the High Court (Land Court 12), Coram: His Lordship Amos Wuntah Wuni J. has jurisdiction to issue contempt summons to the Applicant even if the Applicant's alleged scandalous statements were directed at High Court (Labour Court 2), Coram: His Lordship Frank Aboadwe Rockson.
The Supreme Court speaking through his Lordship Kulendi JSC states as follows;
"We do not think that the High Court (Land Court 12), Coram: His Lordship Amos Wuntah Wuni J. is precluded from issuing contempt summons to the Applicant to appear before him in the manner that he did.
More so, when the Judge was of the opinion that the alleged scandalous and/or threatening words of the Applicant are in respect of the case pending before him.
Even if there is any merit to the Applicant's contentions in this regard, which we think there is not, we are of the opinion that the plaint by the Applicant that his words were targeted at the High Court, (Labour Court 2) are defences that the Applicant may put up at the High Court for a possible exculpation. This court's supervisory jurisdiction is not the forum for the Applicant to put up his defenses to the charge of contempt.
As for the argument by the Applicant that a judge of the High Court cannot commit for contempt of another, we see no reason in principle why, in appropriate circumstances, a judge of the High Court cannot commit for the contempt of another.
This is because the primary purpose of contempt proceedings is not to vindicate any particular judge but rather to ensure that the administration of justice, the primary duty of the court is not put to disrepute and public confidence in the Court, its officers and processes eroded.
Therefore, where the conduct of an individual has the potency of defying, scandalizing or lowering the authority of the court or bringing the administration of justice into disrepute, a court differently constituted may hear the matter......
...For the above reasons, it is immaterial whether the Applicant's unsavory comments were directed at the High Court (Labour Court 2), Coram: His Lordship Frank Aboadwe Rockson J, or the High Court( Land Division) Land Court 12, Coram: His Justice Amos Wuntah-Wuni. Either or both venues being divisions of the High Court, in our view, has jurisdiction to summon the Applicant to appear before the High Court to answer allegations of contempt against him.
It is for this reason that the application for certiorari in the terms prayed, and save as qualified by this court, is refused and dismissed".
On October 14, this year, the apex court prohibited Justice Wuni from presiding over the contempt trial after it upheld some aspects of a judicial review application filed by the legislator.
Lawyers for the MP wanted the Supreme Court to quash the whole case against their client including the summons for him to appear before the High Court.
However, the apex court held that the summons issued by Justice Wuni for the MP to appear and answer for his action, as well as the charges levelled against the MP for allegedly scandalising the court, will stand.
It, however, quashed all the proceedings held before Justice Wuni and ordered the case to be placed before another judge.
This means that the trial will now start afresh before a new judge.
On September 2, this year, Mr Agyapong allegedly insulted a Justice of the High Court.
Mr Agyapong’s alleged comments were made in connection with a land matter.
On September 9, Justice Wuni issued a summons for the MP to appear before the High Court and answer for his alleged contemptuous comments.
"I hereby summon the said Kennedy Ohene Agyapong per a warrant issued under my hand and seal to appear before the High Court (Land Court 12) on Monday, September 14, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. to show cause why he should not be severely punished for contempt, if the matters are proven against him to the satisfaction of the court,’ the summons said.
It was the view of the Supreme Court that Justice Wuni’s use of the phrase ‘severely punished’ made him (Justice Wuni) susceptible to bias.
“Where a judge, even before taking the plea of an accused, expressly states that if the charge preferred against the accused (the applicant herein) is proven against him, he shall be “punished severely’, the inference that the judge is clearly biased is irresistible.
Also, the court held that the records of proceedings at the trial showed that they were ‘confrontational’ which left room for speculation that Justice Wuni would not be impartial in the trial.
“These considerations coupled with the trial judges express language regarding the gravity of punishment he contemplates against the applicant (Kennedy Agyapong), smacks of prejudice and bias,” the court added.