By Rohey Jadama
Principal Magistrate Omar Cham of the Banjul has yesterday 13 July, 2016 denied the former officials of the Gambia National Petroleum Company bail on grounds of lack of jurisdiction to hear the case and accordingly transferred the case to the high court.
The accused persons namely Sira Wally Ndow Njai, former deputy Minister of Petroleum, Momodou O S Badjie, Fafa Sanyang, Edrissa Mass Jobe, Muntaga Momodou Sallah, Momodou Taal, Seedy Kanyi, Noah Touray, Louie Moses Mendy and Cherno Marena former Solicitor General.
When the case was called, Lawyers Ida Drammeh and Abdoulie Sissokho announced their representation for the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 6th accused persons, Lawyers Lamin S. Camara and A. Fatty appeared for the 2nd, 7th and 9th accused persons, Lawyer Loubna Farage appeared for the 5th and 8th accused persons and Lawyers Hawa Sisay-Sabally, Badou SM conteh, Musa Bachily, Yassin Seneghore and Abdoulie Sissokho for the 10th accused person; while the Inspector General of Police was represented by ASP Manga.
Delivering his ruling on the bail of the accused persons, Principal Magistrate Omar Cham said section 9 of the Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Act states that Economic Crimes should be heard only at the high court.
He said the prosecution argued that this court lacks the jurisdiction to try economic crime therefore, it cannot entertain the application. Principal Magistrate Cham added that the defence relied heavily on the 1997 constitution to support their application.
“I shall follow the direction of section 9 of the Economic Crime (Specified Offences) Act. I hereby order for the case to be transferred to the high court. The accused persons are to be remanded in custody”, ruled Principal Magistrate Cham.
This ruling evoked whaling and weeping by relatives of the accused persons in the courtroom.
Barrister Sisay-Sabally said the court should be clear where the accused persons should be remanded. She submitted that the accused persons be remanded where they are presently remanded not at mile two. “I want the court to make that order so that it wouldn’t give anybody the discretion to decide where they should be remanded”, she said. Lawyer Lamin S. Camara associated himself with the submission made by Lawyer Sisay-Sabally.
Lawyer Ida Drammeh applied for the accused persons to be allowed access to their doctors. However, the magistrate said he is not going to make that order. “I wish to be recorded even if the court will choose to refuse my application which is a constitutional right of the accused persons”, said defence counsel Drammeh.
At this juncture, ASP Manga stood up and responded to the application of Lawyer Hawa Sisay-Sabally . He told the court that he heard the submission of the defence team. He added that he is not aware of any law which states that the accused persons can be remanded in any place other than the prisons.
“I respect the application, but any other security facility other than the prisons has no remand facility. I urge the court to overrule the application and order their remand in Mile Two”, submitted ASP Manga.
“Whether is NIA or prisons they have a remand place because since the arrest of the accused persons they have been remanded there and we want the status quo to remain. He has not given any reason why they should be kept at prisons and we’ve not received any complaint from the state “, said Lawyer Sisay-Sabally while replying on points of law.
She continued, “These people are the brains of this country and they have spent all their lives serving the country.” She referred the court to the Criminal Procedure Code.
In his ruling the presiding magistrate said he had heard the application of Mrs Sabally that the accused persons be remanded at NIA where they are currently detained not at Mile Two. The magistrate maintained that the section referred to by Mrs Hawa Sisay Sabally states ‘remand in custody’ and that he will limit himself to that. “I am a judicial officer who interprets laws not execute laws”, ruled the magistrate.
At this stage Lawyer Ida Drammeh again informed the court that she wished to make an application. The magistrate told her to come formally. “No I won’t come formally with all due respect and I wish to be recorded. You are a judicial officer who should listen to applications and make decisions about them”, insisted defence counsel Drammeh. “See me in chambers”, said the Magistrate. “No I wish to make it in an open court as per the constitution”, said Lawyer Drammeh. However, the Magistrate said he will rise and come back.
Upon resumption Barrister Drammeh told the court that she wishes to apply for their clients to be allowed access to medical attention from their own usual medical doctors who have their medical history. She also applied for them to be served with copies of all the documents relating to the case so that the accused persons can prepare for their defence.
Replying to the application of counsel Drammeh, prosecutor Manga said he has no problem with the accused persons being accorded medical attention. He however told the court that he cannot guarantee that they will have access to their own doctors. He said the state will provide them with qualified medical doctors.
Prosecutor Manga added that with regards to the witness statements, the matter is under investigation and this court had transferred the case to the high court and that the defence counsel can make the appropriate application at the high court.
“As an officer of the court in the case of Nogoi Njie Vs the state, a similar application was made at the high court and the court ordered for her to be examined by a medical practitioner of her choice and at a medical facility of her choice in the presence of a state doctor. In that case, the state didn’t oppose the application and that ruling is binding on this court”, submitted Lawyer Sisay-Sabally.
In his ruling Principal Magistrate Cham held that he is maintaining his earlier position that he doesn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case. He said it is very clear that once a person is remanded all his needs are taken care of by the authorities. On the issue of the accused persons being allowed access to witness statements, Principal Magistrate Cham said he cannot make such orders.