Minority Leader Dr. Cassiel Ato Forson has raised serious allegations of bias against the presiding judge overseeing his case concerning the procurement of ambulances.
Amidst the legal proceedings, his legal team took the opportunity to request Judge Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe to recuse herself, citing concerns about impartiality.
The application for recusal was prompted by the granting of a witness summons, a request that had been submitted by the former deputy finance minister. Dr. Ato Forson is currently facing accusations of causing financial loss to the state, and in an effort to strengthen his defense, his lawyers sought the court’s intervention to compel key witnesses, including former health minister Alex Segbefia, to appear and provide their testimony. This move came as they encountered difficulties in persuading these witnesses to come forward, despite having already submitted their witness statements.
Before allowing the motion for recusal to proceed, Judge Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe questioned the approach of the defense team in compelling the witnesses’ appearance through a formal motion. Additionally, she emphasized the potential repercussions for the witnesses, cautioning Dr. Ato Forson’s lawyers about the possibility of issuing arrest warrants should the witnesses fail to cooperate and appear in court.
His lawyers led by Dr. Bassit Bamba insisted that was the best option due to the difficulty in securing their appearance to testify.
But weeks after this request was granted, lawyers of Dr. Ato Forson applied to the court for the judge to recuse herself on grounds that the admonishment by the judge amounted to bias. According to the lawyers, the caution by the judge was not only bias but also portrayed their witnesses as criminals who will willfully disobey a court order.
However, when the case was penned down for determination on Thursday, Dr. Bassit Bamba argued that the Judge does not even have jurisdiction to hear the application on whether she ought to recuse herself for the alleged bias.
He argued that the Judge hearing the matter will amount to her being a judge in 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 advanced in court.
He further argued that there is precedence to show that when the allegations involved are of grave bias, it warrants a call for the sitting Judge not to hear the application. In his view, statements of the Judge including a point that his case will be deemed to have been closed if the summoned witnesses do not appear and he does not secure the attendance of any other witnesses is an infringement on his client’s right to fair trial under article 19.
The judge then inquired why the application was filed in the first place if the applicant considered her unfit to hear the application.
Dr. Ato Forson’s lawyers also clarified that in their application for witness summons they didn’t claim unwillingness on the part of the witnesses to testify but rather a difficulty in reaching out to the witnesses.
The Judge who disagreed on what the records of proceedings were queried if the witnesses were willing, why did Ato Forson apply for the witness summons.
Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe further inquired if indeed the difficulty was just in reaching out to the witnesses, how was a witness summon going to help reach them.
Attorney General Godfred Yeboah Dame described the application as unmeritorious.
He argued that it is a settled position in law that a Judge whom bias has been alleged against has jurisdiction to hear the matter.
He further argued that the court has not in any way shown bias and all orders made are within the powers of the court.
Justice Afia Serwah Asare-Botwe has adjourned the case to October 12 to deliver her ruling on both the objection to her jurisdiction to hear the matter and the substantive application for her to recuse herself.
Meanwhile, an application by Dr. Ato Forson for his passport to be released to him was not heard as the Judge was of the view that her capacity to hear the application will be based on the ruling to be delivered in October.