An Accra High Court has adopted the use of witness statements as evidence in chief in the $66million SSNIT Operational Business Suite (OBS) trial.
This means that witnesses called by the State would be cross examined after they have read out their witness statements in open court.
The statements would then be tendered in evidence.
A Court of Appeal Judge, sitting with additional responsibility as a High Court Judge, Justice Henry Kwofie, ruling on the matter, held that adopting prosecuting witness statements would not cause any harm or deny them their constitutional rights because the accused persons respective lawyers had already been served with witness statements.
According to the court, the accused persons had the right to cross examine or object to any portion of their statements.
The ruling noted that under the Court’s Practice Direction, witness statements ought to be read out before a witness was cross examined.
In relation to the demeanor of the witnesses, the Court held that the witness’s demeanor would be best seen during cross-examination.
Meanwhile, the Court has concluded its Case Management Conference.
On January 21, 2022, the Court is expected to call its first prosecution witness in the person of Mary Negatey.
The prosecution, which is expected to call 10 witnesses to make up their case, prayed the court to allow the State to use witness statements as evidence in chief.
According to the prosecution, they would be relying on their witness statements and some documents would also be tendered through the witnesses.
At the last sitting, the State, led by Richard Gyambiby, Principal State Attorney (PSA), wanted the court to adopt the use of tendering of witness statements so that witnesses would be cross examined by the accused respective lawyers.
Mr Gyambiby argued that no harm would occur to the accused persons if witness statements were allowed as evidence in chief.
According to Mr Gyambiby, it would be a complete waste of time for the witnesses to come and state what they had written and that it would defeat the objectives of fair trial, which the court was supposed to uphold.
The PSA said the Practice Direction of the Courts only acted as a guideline, therefore, a judge considering a matter could use his or discretion in favour of a fair trial.
Citing Section 69 of the Evidence Act, (the Evidence Act of 1975) Mr Gyambiby, said it lay in the bosom of the judge to order the mode, manner and order of how a trial should be done or conducted.
The prosecution said the overriding objective of a criminal trial was to ensure efficient and expeditious trial, noting that the accused persons’ lawyers had not been able to tell the court they would suffer any miscarriage of justice.
Lawyers for the accused persons objected, saying they would prefer that witnesses gave their evidence in chief, and cross-examined.
According to the lawyers, that would help them know the demeanor of the witnesses.
The accused persons indicted in the SSNIT $66million scandal are: Mr. Thompson, John Hagan Mensah, former Information Manager of SSNIT, Juliet Hassan Kramer, Chief Executive Officer of Perfect Business Consult, Caleb Kwaku Afaglo, former Head of Management Information Systems, SSNIT and Peter Hayibor, a lawyer at SSNIT.
Two out of five Defence counsels have indicated to the court that they would be calling defense witnesses.
The five accused persons are being tried over the $66million SSNIT Operational Business Suite (OBS project), which was meant to revamp the operations of SSNIT through Information Communications Technology.
The accused persons have denied the various charges -conspiracy to willfully cause financial loss to the state and willfully causing financial loss to the state.
Thompson and Kramer were jointly held over three counts of contravening the Public Procurement Act, 2003 (Act 663).
Afaglo and Kramer are also facing a charge of defrauding by false pretences.
Afaglo has been accused again for securing his employment at SSNIT with fake Certificates and he is also said to have possessed forged documents and uttering the said forged certificates.
The five accused persons have pleaded not guilty, and they are on bail.