Atuguba Cautions Media On Misreporting Proceedings

Media At the Supreme CourtThe Presiding Judge of the nine-member panel of the Supreme Court hearing the 2012 presidential election petition, Justice William Atuguba, has given a stern warning to the media which continuously misreport the case.

Delivering the statement at yesterday’s sitting, he said despite earlier warnings to some sections of the media and counsels in the case, some journalists continue to make pronouncements are unacceptable.

He declared the bench has taken a stance on the matter and any one, be it in the media or wherever who crosses the final touchline of proper coverage, will be met with the appropriate response.”
Justice Atuguba explained, this was to uphold the sanctity of the court, and the authority of the State.

He made particular reference to Daily Guide newspaper reportage which purported that a missing box containing pink sheets was found in his (Justice  Atuguba’s) custody. He noted that the report was in correct, and unacceptable.

Justice Atuguba again made reference to the contents of the final report of KPMG which had found its way into the media, when the court was yet to receive its copy.

A rumpus arose when the petitioners asked for an electronic copy of the final report, to facilitate the perusal of the document.
All the parties in the hearing and the firm had agreed to be given hard copies, with the soft copy to be kept under lock and key by the firm, in order not to undermine its integrity.

The agreement was reached when the firm indicated to the parties that due to risk management, it would not release the soft copy to them, however, if they did not understand issues pertaining to arriving at the final report, the firm was ready to go through the process with them.

Counsel for President John Mahama, Tony Lithur set the ball rolling, by vehemently protesting  the assertion of the petitioners, due to an agreement that all the parties to be given hard copies with the  soft copy would be kept under lock and key by the referee, KPMG.
He argued that he would not accept the petitioners’ request for a soft copy to be provided them.

Mr. Lithur’s line of argument infuriated Philip Addison, lead counsel for the petitioners making him question why there was an objection to the petitioners harmless request.

He added that “the petitioners needed a soft copy of the report and have requested the court for it and that if the respondents are not in need of it, there is no need asking for it but they cannot object to our request.”
James Quarshie-Idun, counsel for the Electoral Commission (EC) agreed with the sentiments expressed by Mr. Lithur, and submitted that if the petitioners were in need of a soft copy, they could as well scan the hard copies into soft copies.

The sentiments expressed by the two respondents made Tsatsu Tsikata to join the fray and contended that it was agreed before the process began, only hard copies would be given to all the parties, for  good reason.

In order not to compromise the report,  “agreed soft copies to be given, and that “for a count that saw hard copies increase in number, it is dangerous to have soft copies”.

The standoff prompted, Justice Atuguba to recall Nii Armah Dodoo, a Partner of KPMG and lead of Audit practice into the witness box, to ask about KPMG’s position on the issue.

He explained that “it was categorically agreed with all the parties in the hearing that during the audit that soft copies will not be given out, however, if any of the parties did not understand any issue concerning how we arrived at the report, we would be ready to take the parties through the process.” Justice Atuguba had earlier asked for comments from counsels of all the parties on the KPMG report and Mr. Tsikata was the first to inform the bench that he had received a draft copy from the audit firm.

He indicated that he would have preferred  the official report was submitted to the court by the firm, to enable the respondents to compare it with the draft copy.

Messrs Lithur and Quarshie-Idun supported the sentiments expressed by Mr. Tsikata but Mr. Addison noted that he would need more time to peruse the document due to the petitioners comments on the draft report submitted by the firm.

He argued that the petitioners made comments on the draft report submitted by the referee and they would want to check if their comments were in-corporated in the final report.

Justice Atuguba then suggested to the parties to consent to the final report without having to drag officials of KPMG into the witness box to answer questions as to what criteria was used in arriving at the audit.

“My suggestion is informed by the fact that all the parties in the hearing were involved in the process at arriving at the decision,” but added that “if it is the view and desire of the parties to want to cross-examine officials of KPMG they have the right to do so”.
He indicated that his conviction was based on the fact that “no matter the regime of the law of evidence a country uses, parties can agree to a report by consent.”
Justice Atuguba was again compelled to call Nii Dodoo to mount the witness box during a disagreement between the petitioners and the respondents as to how to tender the report in evidence.
He swore an Oath and was asked his mission by Justice Atuguba and his demeanour that he struggled to explain his mission before the court.
The witness was under intense pressure mounting the box for the first time but after a short period he mustered enough courage and informed the court that he was submitting 15 copies of a five volume document to the Registrar of the court for onward submission to all the parties and the panel of judges.

After tendering the document in evidence the parties did not raise any objection but to the surprise to the bench, bar and audience he was drenched in sweat and wiping them amdist laughter.

Expressing the gratitude of the court, Justice Atuguba discharged the witness but cautioned that he could be recalled to mount the box if the parties wished to clarify issues pertaining to the report, as like the standoff between the parties over the request for an electronic copy.

Counsel for the parties also supported the gratitude expressed by Justice Atuguba, however, when he (Justice Atuguba) asked Mr.
Addison whether he had completed his cross-examination of Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, chairman of the EC and key witness of the second respondent, pending report of the audited pink sheets, he submitted that his completion of the cross-examination hinged on the audited pink sheets and that he needed two clear days to peruse the report.

Counsel for the respondents vehemently protested, arguing that two days were on a high side since all the parties had been presented with draft reports and that it was unjustifiable.

Mr. Lithur was first to object and said he would rather prefer the petitioners use yesterday to study the report and return today and  that it was not an imposition but a suggestion.

However, Mr. Addison submitted that he understood why the first and third respondents were opposing his request, because they made little comments on the draft copy.

He argued that “the petitioners have made substantial comments on the draft report, and  have to satisfy themselves that these comments have been incorporated in the final report”. Mr. Addison pointed out that the petitioners would be the last to delay the hearing.
When a member of the panel Justice Paul Baffoe-Bonnie asked Mr. Addison to explain what he meant by two clear days, he said he would use Tuesday and Wednesday, but Justice Baffoe-Bonnie said it was too much.

The bench pondered over the issue and by a 7-2 majority decision, the request of the petitioners was rejected and the court adjourned to June 26. The petitioners, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo, his running mate, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia, and Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, chairman of the New Patriotic party (NPP) are challenging the result of the 2012 presidential election in which the Electoral Commission (EC) declared President John Mahama the winner.

They are contending that ‘gross and widespread’ irregularities took place in the 11,916 polling stations. The petitioners are, therefore, calling for the annulment of 4,670,504 votes cast in the 11,916 polling stations.

But, President Mahama, the Electoral Commission (EC) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) first, second and third respondents respectively, have denied any wrongdoing, and are of the view that the polls were free, fair and transparent and for that reason the results were credible and accurate.

The nine-member panel of judges hearing the case is presided over by Justice William Atuguba. The other members are Justices Julius Ansah, Mrs. Sophia Adinyira, Ms. Rose Owusu, Jones Dotse, Annin Yeboah, Paul Baffoe-Bonnie, N. S. Gbadegbe and Mrs  Vida Akoto-Bamfo. -Winston Tamakloe

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