President John Mahama's intention to call about 4,800 witnesses in his defence to the NPP's petition challenging his declaration as winner of the 2012 election will not be the only reason the case will drag, law lecturer Ernest Kofi Abotsi has said.
He said persons expecting a speedy resolution of the matter must brace for a long haul because the case is likely to travel for years.
Mr. Kofi Abotsi, a senior law lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) was speaking to Joy FM's Super Morning show host Bernard Saibu, Tuesday on the presidential election petition brought by Nana Akufo-Addo, NPP Presidential candidate, his running-mate, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia and New Patriotic Party chairman, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey asking the Supreme Court to nullify the declaration of President Mahama by the Electoral Commission as winner of the December polls and citing what they say were widespread irregularities which affected the outcome of the election.
In his response, the president, who together with the EC, is a respondent, said he may call 4,800 witnesses - a move some say is designed to deliberately slow down the progress of the case.
Mr. Abotsi said the likely implication of presenting 4,800 witnesses “is delay obviously but a party obviously exercises some liberty to decide whom to call for his case even though the court also has jurisdiction to exclude witnesses being called.”
The Supreme Court, he added, generally is not a place where witnesses are called per se unlike courts of first instance of trial or trial courts, “so the Court has a great deal of discretion to decide which witness are called and the number of considerations going into a court deciding whether or not to exclude a witness and the question of delay is certainly one of the key principles that a court may consider in order to avoid the matter dragging to a point where indeed at the end justice may not be done.”
Mr Abotsi observed that while parties exercise the liberty of deciding who to call, the court may exclude witnesses on the grounds that it may cause a great deal of inconvenience or delay.
“The difficulty however [is that] it is the state that is involved in this case and the...court in making that conclusion will ultimately consider also that justice is done to all parties and therefore it may not want to appear to be unduly inhibiting a party’s case or constricting a party from advancing its case in a particular direction,” he stated.
According to him, the court has wide ranging discretion and it has inherent jurisdiction in many respects and so if the court thinks in the light of the number of witnesses listed by a party, the miscarriage of justice will be occasioned or the whole process will be stalled by delay, the court might decide to decide these witness through a preliminary examination or auditing and after that it may decide that they may not be relevant and therefore may not be called.
The law lecturer observed that giving the gravity and the time consciousness of the case, the court may decide on the relevance of the witnesses and the potential of duplication whiles maintaining neutrality.
He said he will be surprised if the court allows the 4,800 witnesses because “we might easily lose track of even the testimonies and you might lose track of the development of the case.”
The court, he said, is mindful of time and “no court wants to indulge in conducts that is considered a futility,” and therefore will inform their judgment as to which witnesses to allow from both sides.
While he says he will be surprised if the court allows both parties to call the number of witnesses they are planning to present which may drag the case, there are other matters that could ultimately delay the hearing process.
Calling of witnesses he said is just one of the many elements and options that could delay the case. “Whichever way you will like to look at it, we are likely to still have a bit of time to travel because invariably the wheels of justice grind slowly and it always does because it wants to ensure that in the end the right thing is done.”
“We are still in for quiet some travel even if all 4,800 are not called but certainly that number appears to be high,” Mr Abotsi concluded.