General News of Friday, 4 January 2019
The MD of the State Housing Company (SHC) Limited Mr Kwabena Ampofo-Appiah and Edward Awuah, his Estate Manager have been convicted of contempt for disobeying court orders.
This was after the General Jurisdiction Division of the Accra High Court presided over by Justice Kwaku Tawiah Ackaah-Boafo has found them guilty for facilitating the sale of a house which is currently being used by the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly as their office at the time, that property was a subject before the court.
One other, Jacob Beecham, who is the head of SHC Armed Task Force was acquitted for no wrongdoing doing.
Mr Ampofo-Appiah, Mr Awuah and Mr Beecham were 1st, 2nd and 3rd respondents in the contempt case filed by one Mrs Patience Atta-Affram.
After pleading for mitigation, the court imposed a fine of GH¢15, 000 each against them, “in default each of them shall serve 21 days in jail.”
Justice Ackaah-Boafo’s court also directed that, the fine when paid, GH¢10,000 out of the total of GH¢30,000 shall be paid out to the Applicant to help her offset part of her legal costs. No further Order as to Cost.
The applicant Madam Atta-Affram, a 74-year-old widow, had accused the Respondents for failing to respect the judgement of another High Court earlier.
It was the case of Applicant that after a full-blown trial the court entered judgement in her favour on July 12, 2018.
But when the matter was still pending in court, the respondent’s went ahead and sold the property in March, which is a sub judice.
The applicant argued that the Entry of Judgment was filed on 3rd August 2018 and same was served on the State Housing Company on August 16, 2018.
She argued that, the 1st Respondent, as head of the State Housing Company, was aware of the service of the entry of judgment.
The Applicant also said she applied for leave to issue writ of possession and same was granted by the court.
According to the Applicant with the assistance of the Accra Regional Police, the Sheriff of the court put her in possession on September 24, 2018.
She told the court that, soon after she was put into possession in the house “the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents caused the State Housing Company Armed Task Force to invade the house and angrily removed the Applicant’s belongings and placed them outside the house”.
She further told the court that, upon their arrival, the Task Force led by Jacob Beecham were shown the order for writ of possession but disregarded it.
The Applicant contends that she informed her counsel who in turn informed the Accra Regional Police, the Sheriff and Registrar of this court.
The Applicant said, “the Police were enraged by the Respondents’ blatant disregard for the orders of the court or due process and sent Police reinforcement to the house and placed applicant back into possession at about 3pm the same day”.
The Applicant has further deposed that “the Sheriff and Police padlocked all rooms in the house and its gate and keys were handed over to the sheriff to be deposited with the Registrar of this court the reason being to ensure that the Applicant, a 74-year-old widow, was not again traumatized at night by the task force who had earlier in the day violently packed out her belongings”.
According to the Applicant “at about 7.00 P.M. that evening the Respondents, for a second time, ordered the State Housing Task Force to return to the premises, broke all locks on the rooms and gate of the house”.
The Applicant said the following day, on September 25, 2018 she reported the matter to Chief Superintendent Kwasi Ofori the Operations Commander of the Ghana Police Service, the Accra Regional Commander George Alex Mensah the Sheriff and Registrar of the Land Court.
It was the further case of the Applicant that “the 1st Respondent as head of State Housing Company and 2nd Respondent as its Operations Manager deployed State Housing Task Force headed by the 3rd Respondent to challenge and willfully disobey the orders of the court”.
The Applicant has further deposed that “that all attempts at restraining Respondents and State Housing Task Force to abide by the order of the court and seek redress, if any, from the same law courts by Plaintiff the Sheriff and Police Officers were blatantly ignored as members of the Task Force slapped by-standers and reiterated that whatever number of times execution is levied they would ensure that the Plaintiff is not put into possession.
According to the Applicant “the conduct of the Respondents have undermined and ridiculed the administration of justice, law and order in the country and put same into disrepute, disregard and scorn” and should be punished for their contumacious behavior because as “high-ranking officials of a public institution, a creature of statute, they ought to know better and respect the orders of the courts of the land but not arrogate to themselves such despicable powers”.
The Applicant has prayed the court based on all of the above to commit and punish the Respondents for contempt of court to serve as a deterrent to other high ranking officials and the general public for committing contempt of court.
The Applicant averred in the Supplementary Affidavit that she had been in occupation of H/No. 168/19 also known as H/No. A 232 Dansoman Estate for over 30 years and was still in occupation until December 2016 when the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Respondents employer, the State Housing Company unlawfully evicted her and the family.
The Applicant said she went to Court to demand H/No. 168/19 also known as H/No. A232, Dansoman, for that reason the purported sale of that house to an Assembly or whosoever clearly manifests Respondents’ willful disregard and disrespect for whatever outcome awaited the State Housing Company in the matter before the court.
According to the Applicant, the Respondents “misled this court differently constituted, into thinking that SHC required the house in dispute for its own use only to be heard now that it sold that house to another person.”
The Applicant has also deposed that “indeed, the next house to the Applicant’s was recently sold to Mr. Robert Francis Gandhi Kumah retired Senior Staff of State Housing Company in 2013 A.D and the justice and equity of the matter demanded that the Applicant’s husband or Estate be allocated the same house he had stayed in and which his widow, the Applicant continues to stay in with the family for more than 20 years after his demise.”
RESPONDENTS DENY WRONG-DOING
The MD of SHC who deposed to the affidavit in opposition on behalf of the 2nd respondent had denied that “as officials of the SHC they have engaged in any contemptuous act.”
The 3rd respondent also deposed to his own affidavit, also denied any wrong-doing.
According to the 1st and 2nd Respondents “after the judgment and the service of the Entry of Judgment on the SHC, the company was advised by its lawyer to comply with the orders of the Honourable Court in allocating another house to the Applicant herein as by then-House No. A232 Dansoman Estates had already been allocated to the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly”.
According to the deponent, Mr Ampofo Appiah “with dispatch the SHC allocated a house to the Applicant herein by a letter dated September 14, 2018, which allocation the Applicant declined in a letter dated September 20, 2018.
Mr Ampofo-Appiah has deposed that “after the family of Mr Affram was removed from the disputed property, prior to the conclusion of the case and delivery of the judgment, the SHC received an application from the Honourable Member of Parliament for Ablekuma West Constituency on behalf of the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly dated 1st March, 2018 seeking an allocation of a property to be used as office by the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly.
According to the 1st Respondent, by a letter dated March 12, 2018, the SHC allocated the disputed property to the said Municipal Assembly subject to terms contained in the said letter.
It is the case of the 1st and 2nd Respondents “that in a letter dated March 15, 2018; the Member of Parliament for Ablekuma West wrote to SHC accepting the offer of the disputed house for use of offices of the Ablekuma West Assembly”.
PAYMENT FOR DISPUTED PROPERTY
Mr Ampofo Appiah said “the SHC received part payment for the allocation of the disputed property to the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly after which the said property was handed to the said Assembly and they since have been in occupation to the best of our knowledge”
They further said “it is inaccurate for the Applicant to create the impression that we have done anything to bring the administration of justice into disrepute after the service of Entry of Judgment on the SHC or after the delivery of the said judgment for that matter.
“That we were never aware at the time of allocating the disputed property to the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly or thereafter that the said property was the subject of an order for recovery of possession or that the SHC was ordered to allocate only that property to the Applicant herein”.
He further deposed that “since the said property was occupied by the said Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly the SHC for which we work had no immediate right or interest in the property to warrant and deployment of the SHC Task Force and same was never deployed by us or the SHC for that matter”.
The 1st and 2nd Respondents have further deposed that they were Tamale in the Northern Region on an official assignment from September 23 to 25, 2018 and were not in Accra or anywhere near the disputed property and therefore they could not have disobeyed the Court order.
They argued that, the “order for recovery of possession of the disputed property was never served on the SHC or on us and we have not deliberately acted contrary to any such orders.
Mr Appiah said “we are law-abiding public officers and will not willingly do anything to undermine the administration of justice but in the event the Honourable Court holds the view that anything done by us or the SHC for that matter was in contempt of the Court in respect of this mater we unreservedly apologize to the Honourable Court”.
The court in its ruling further said “there is that unimpeachable evidence that the 2nd Respondent was the one who always attended Court and did testify for the SHC.
The court also held that Mr Edward Awuah was the one who acted for the SHC in its dealings with the Honourable Ursula Owusu and the Ablekuma West Municipal Assembly when he authored and signed Exhibit “4” dated March 12, 2018.
The court said he knew that the subject matter property was sub judice for after all the SHC was represented by Counsel and it would be improper for the Court to hold that the act is that of the SHC qua Company only and not the 1st and 2nd Respondents as its officers,
“The 1st Respondent as the Managing Director and 2nd Respondent as the Operations Manager can be held liable for the acts of the SHC based on the facts even though the SHC itself was not cited by the Applicant.
Justice Ackaah-Boafo said as Senior Officers of the Company, “they are the alter egos of the Company and therefore may be held liable for the acts of commission or omissions of the company.”
The law as stated above is that any order or in this case willful act against a body corporate may be enforced against its directors or officers.
The however ruled that, “based on the available evidence, there was an act of disobedience and therefore based on the second leg of the application I hereby find that the act of disposing of the property before the conclusion of the suit undermined the Court authority and indeed misled the Court to make orders which were in vain and indeed imprudent against the well-established rule that “Courts do not make orders in vain”.
“I also have no hesitation to conclude that the 1st and 2nd Respondents’ action was willful. To my mind, they knew what they were doing when they disposed of the property before the matter was concluded and also failed to notify the Court.
“As stated above the deposition of Mr Ampofo-Appiah at paragraph 12 of his affidavit is disingenuous and flawed. There is no air of reality to it because it is clearly an afterthought and I find it unworthy of consideration and belief and therefore I reject same. It is my finding that despite the denial, the SHC through the 1st and 2nd Respondents adopted a tactic of disposing off the property which to my mind was a well-orchestrated plan to end-run and undermine the Court’s authority and same was, therefore, a willful and flagrant of the Court’s authority.”
“Based on all of the above I hold the respectful view that a case of contempt has been properly made against the 1st and 2nd Respondents/Contemnor herein both under common law and statute, that is S.13(1) of NRCD 323.
The Applicant the court said has undoubtedly met her onus of proving the 1st and 2nd Respondents’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt. “Consequently, I hold the 1st and 2nd Respondent in contempt of court and convict them accordingly.”
“In view of my analysis based on the allegation of obstruction of the execution, I hereby Aquit the 3rd Respondent,” the court said.