A farmer has become a victim of injustice after spending more than five years on remand in prison although a murder case against him had been struck out by the Akuapem Mampong District Court.
Mr Kwabena K. Huletey, 41, was accused of killing his girlfriend in 2015 at Akuapem Adoso in the Eastern Region.
The case was, however, struck out by the Akuapem Mampong District Court on December 15, 2016 after an autopsy report revealed that the girlfriend died from pneumonia and, therefore, was not killed by Mr Huletey as alleged by the police.
Having the case struck out meant that Mr Huletey had been discharged as a free man, but instead, the police investigator handling the case took him back to the Koforidua Prison where he (Huletey) was already on remand for him to further languish in jail.
It was not until last Tuesday, October 19, 2021 that Mr Huletey regained his freedom through the Justice for All Programme (JFAP), an initiative meant to decongest prisons, organised by the Judicial Service in conjunction with the Attorney-General’s Department (A-G) and the Ghana Prisons and Police Services, with the POS Foundation, a civil society organisation, as the facilitator.
In 2015, Mr Huletey had a misunderstanding with his girlfriend after he had refused to give her money to go to hospital which resulted in the two exchanging words.
The girlfriend eventually went to the hospital but died two days afterwards.
Family members of the girlfriend accused Mr Huletey of beating her, leading to her death, and subsequently caused his arrest after reporting the matter to the police.
The police charged him with murder and arraigned him before the Akuapem Mampong District Court to kick-start the process that could lead to his trial at the High Court should the District Court commit him to stand trial.
He was remanded on four occasions by the District Court, but on December 15, 2016, the court struck out the entire case after an autopsy report showed that the girlfriend died from pneumonia.
In all, Mr Huletey spent almost six years and seven weeks on remand from the time he was first remanded by the District Court until his eventual release through the JFAP.
The injustice meted out to Mr Huletey reinforces the unfairness and wickedness in the criminal justice system which was recently echoed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Emmanuel Yonny Kulendi.
Justice Kulendi said outrageous bail conditions, unnecessary remand, coupled with extortion and corruption in the criminal justice system demonstrated how unfair and wicked some people could be towards their fellow human beings.
According to him, remand ought to be for people who were not likely to appear before a court to answer charges, and should, therefore, not be used as a form of punishment.
Judge calls for investigation
The sad case of Mr Huletey played out like a movie before the virtual High Court set up to hear his application for discharge and that of 54 other remand prisoners from the Koforidua Prison as part of the JFAP.
A Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Angelina Mensah-Homiah, sitting as a High Court judge, who heard Mr Huletey’s case, and subsequently discharged him unconditionally, did not hide her displeasure about the injustice meted out to him.
She grilled the police investigator who handled the case and wondered why Mr Huletey was taken back to the Koforidua Prison when the Mampong District Court had struck out the case.
After unsatisfactory answers from the investigator, Detective Sergeant Samuel Frimpong, Justice Mensah-Homiah called on the police service to commence investigations to unravel the circumstances surrounding Mr Huletey’s ordeal.
“The case against the accused person was struck out on December 15, 2016 by the Akuapem Mampong District Court.
However, the accused person has remained in prison since that date. In the circumstances, the accused is unconditionally discharged.”
“I recommend that the circumstances be investigated to prevent such an occurrence in the future,” Justice Mensah-Homiah said.
Below are excerpts of what transpired between Justice Mensah-Homiah and the investigator
Judge: Why did you take the accused person back to prison after the court had discharged him?
Investigator: I had proceeded on transfer. I was not there at the time.
Judge: Where were you?
Investigator: I was not informed by the prosecutor.
Judge: So, who took him to the prison in 2016 and on what warrant?
Investigator: I was on sick leave then, so the station master dedicated somebody to be taking him to and from the prison to the court.
Judge: You have still not answered my question. The case was struck out in 2016, but you and your outfit managed to send him to prison where he had remained till date.
Investigator: My Lady, I have no knowledge about this matter now.
Judge: We will make the necessary recommendations and your superiors will get back to you.
JFAP virtual court
The JFAP was established in 2007 to help reduce overcrowding in the country’s prisons with emphasis on remand prisoners by providing justice for such prisoners whose trial had stalled or was yet to commence even though they had spent years on remand.
The programme involves the setting up of special High Courts at the prisons where the cases of prisoners who meet the criteria of the programme are reviewed.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts had for some time now been operating virtually.
With the virtual courts, the judges sit in their offices or at the judicial service headquarters in Accra, and through video conferencing software, link up with the accused persons from prison, defence lawyers and prosecutors from the A-G’s office.
Two of such courts were set up for the JFAP for the Koforidua Prison on Friday, October 15, 2021, with the courts presided over by Justice Clemence J. Honyenuga, a Justice of the Supreme Court and Chairman of the National Steering Committee of the JFAP, and Justice Mensah-Homiah.
The cases of 55 remand prisoners were heard by the two courts.
Two of the prisoners, including Mr Huletey, were discharged unconditionally by the courts; 20 were granted bail, 24 had their bail applications refused, eight cases were struck out and one case was adjourned.
The lawyers who represented the accused persons were Dr Agyemang Budu, Mr Isaac Aidoo and Mr David Takyi.