An Accra High Court has directed parties in a defamation suit by Lighthouse Chapel International to first attempt to amicably settle the case.
The judge, Rev. Fr Joseph Adu Owusu Agyeman, explained that his order was based on new rules for civil cases (C.I. 133), which require litigants first to attempt a settlement before the case proceeds to trial if the settlement fails.
In December 2021, Lighthouse Chapel International sued publishers of The Fourth Estate alleging defamation in a series of reports the news outlet had published about the church and its former pastors and bishops.
The church cited as defendants the Editor-in-Chief of The Fourth Estate, Manasseh Azure Awuni; and the investigative reporter, Edwin Appiah; who wrote the story of alleged traumatic abuse and economic exploitation that six bishops and pastors of the church say they suffered before they resigned from the church. The other defendants are the Executive Director of the Media Foundation for West Africa, Sulemana Braimah and The Media Foundation for West Africa.
The church turned down an opportunity to respond to the allegation after the journalist sought its side of the story ahead of the serialized publication. But incensed by the publication, the charismatic church, founded by Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, sued for defamation, claiming that it was losing members because of the story.
The church said it had also “suffered considerable damage, distress and embarrassment” because the stories cast the church as a “two-faced” Christian organization and a “ranking hypocrite”.
The church wants the court to restrain The Fourth Estate from publishing “similar words defamatory of the plaintiff.” It also wants The Fourth Estate to apologize for the stories and also pull down all the stories.
The parties have filed their witness statements and evidence for the trial. But at the sitting to give directions for the trial, the judge hulled in biblical reinforcements for his directive.
Being a judge and a catholic priest, Rev. Fr Joseph Adu Owusu Agyeman, referred to the book of Matthew where Christians are warned to brace for vilifications and yet be ready to stomach it.
He said the Catholic church was the most vilified, especially by Charismatics, but the church continued to accommodate all sorts of allegations of wrongdoing. Rev. Fr. Owusu Agyeman said it was important for the parties to first try settling the case.
The lawyer for Lighthouse, Kweku Painstil, told the court he had mooted the idea but encountered a situation. The lawyer for all four defendants, Samson Lardy Anyenini, confirmed his colleague’s statement and hoped some progress would be made before the next date.
The rules direct that there should be a mediation effort before the court entertains what is known as a case management conference, where both sides and the judge meet to settle on how to handle the case, identify the real issues in dispute and then go for trial.
The court adjourned the defamation suit to October 12, 2022, by which time the judge said he should receive a report on attempted settlement.
Counsel for Plaintiff pleaded with the judge and catholic priest to lead the settlement process and if it failed the case should be reassigned to a different judge for trial.
The High court judge, in the spirit of the bible verses he dished out in court, indicated he was ready and willing except that he would not be around during the legal vacation that starts in August.
Counsel for Plaintiff then indicated an alternative would be found.
Apart from the defamation suit, Lighthouse Chapel International has also sued the same defendants for contempt of court alleging they published matters which were already in court.