Dr. Cassiel Ato Forson, the Minority Leader in Parliament, has charged that the Judge overseeing his case over the purchase of some ambulances, as biased.
When called to advance his motion for the Judge, Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe to recuse herself, his attorneys emphasized this argument. After receiving the witness summons he requested from the court, the former Deputy Finance Minister who is accused of inflicting financial harm to the state filed the application.
Even though some of his witnesses had given witness statements, including former Health Minister Alex Segbefia, his attorneys faced troubles getting some of them to appear in court. As a result, they urged the judge to issue witness summonses for some of their clients’ witnesses.
Before allowing the motion to be moved, the Judge, Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe, questioned why they had to use a motion to compel the appearance of the witnesses and therefore, warned the attorneys for Dr. Ato Forson of the repercussions of issuing an arrest warrant for the witnesses in the event that they fail to appear.
As it was challenging to secure their appearance to testify, his attorneys, led by Dr. Bassit Bamba, insisted that this was the best course of action.
However, a few weeks after this motion was approved, Dr. Ato Forson’s attorneys asked the court for the judge to step down on the grounds that the reprimand she had issued, amounted to bias. The lawyers claimed that the judge’s caution was unfair and painted their clients’ witnesses as criminals, who would purposely disregard a court order.
However, Dr. Bassit Bamba contended that the Judge does not even have jurisdiction to consider the motion regarding whether or not she should recuse herself, due to the alleged bias when the case was set down for determination. He stated that the judge who heard the case will effectively be presiding over her own case.
“The course which we are referring to has to do with certain prejudicial utterances that your ladyship has made in the course of hearing this matter. In that regard, your ladyship has become the subject matter of this application, we pray that your ladyship should decline to hear this matter, for this court is differently constituted to hear this application.”Dr. Bassit Bamba
The counselor emphasized that there is precedent to support the claim that the incumbent Judge should not consider the application where there are serious allegations of prejudice, claiming that his client’s right to a fair trial under Article 19 was violated by the judge’s comment.
Contacting Witnesses Problematic
The Judge then questioned the purpose of filing the application in the first place, if the applicant felt that she was unqualified to hear it.
The attorneys for Dr. Ato Forson further stressed that they did not alleged that the witnesses were reluctant to testify in their application for witness summons, but rather that they had problems contacting the witnesses.
“If the witnesses were agreeable, why did Ato Forson seek for the witness summons?”, asked the judge who had different opinions on what the records of the proceedings showed. In addition, Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe questioned how a witness summons would help locate the witnesses if the problem was simply getting in touch with them.
However, the application was deemed unmeritorious by Attorney General Godfred Yeboah Dame. He claimed that it is a well-established principle of law that a judge who has been accused of prejudice has the authority to hear the case, adding that all of the court’s orders were within its authority and that the court had not demonstrated any bias in any way.
The case has been postponed until October 12, so that Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe can rule on the substantive plea for her to disqualify herself as well as the challenge to her authority to hear the matter.
In the meantime, a request by Dr. Ato Forson for the return of his passport was not considered because the judge felt that her ability to do so would depend on the outcome of the case, which is scheduled to be decided in October.