Lawyers Battle over Admissibility of a Document in Juwara & Co Case

By Mamadou Dem
Defence Attorney for Tamsir Onasis Konteh, Sheriff Tambadou and Waa JuwaraAbdourahman Bah, Counsel representing the state in the trial of the erstwhile Minister of Local Government, Lands and Traditional Rulers, Lamin Waa Juwara and two others, yesterday argued on whether a letter belonging to Tamsir Onasis Konteh should be admitted in evidence.
After several submissions and arguments by the defence, the state prosecutors applied for adjournment to enable them furnish the court with certain citations regarding their objections.
The former  Minister of local government and lands, Lamin Waa Juwara, Hamidou Jallow, former principal land’s officer at the said Department of Lands and Survey and Tamsir Onasis Conteh, are being tried on charges of negligence of official duty, Making False Documents, Uttering False Documents , Obtaining goods by false pretences, abuse of Office, Disobedience of statutory and Disobedience of lawful orders, charges they denied.
Continuing with his defence, the first accused told the court that he was given a letter by the state in 2005 regarding Tanji layout compensation; adding that he found the said letter in one of his cartons which he has been searching for quite a long time.
When asked by his counsel whether he would be able to identify the said letter, he replied in the affirmative.
According to the witness, the said letter was dated 13th June 2005 and was addressed to him. After confirming the said letter whilst in the witness box, his counsel applied to tender it as an exhibit but the state objected to its admissibility on the ground that the said letter sought to be tendered was the one rejected by the court and as such it cannot be admitted.
State counsel Bah argued that the first accused has even categorically stated that he has thoroughly searched the said document but could not find it and urged the court to reject it.
Defence Attorney for Mr. Konteh argued that his client is charged with criminal offences and the matter is a criminal trial. “My client should be given all and every opportunity to clear his name as his liberty is at stake and the law is very clear on that,” he submitted.
Furthermore, counsel submitted that they are not trying to ambush the state but rather to clear the allegations against his client. He said the document which was marked rejected1 by the court is a secondary copy of a document which is different from the document sought to be tendered which he said was primary evidence and is from proper custody (the accused). He finally urged the court to admit the document.
At that juncture, counsel for the state disclosed to the court that he wanted to reply on points of law in order to cite authorities but the authorities he wanted to buttress on were not with him in court. He therefore applied for an adjournment which was granted by the court.
At that juncture, the matter was adjourned for ruling and continuation of hearing.
Prior to the continuation of defence by the first accused, the court delivered a ruling on the objection raised by the state on the 19th of this month, 2014 regarding the admissibility of a copy of the first letter of compensation emanating from Mr. Konteh.
Delivering the ruling on the admissibility of a document sought to be tendered by the defence, the presiding Magistrate, Magistrate Dawda Jallow stated that  counsel for the 1st accused person, Sheriff Tambadou sought to tender a copy of the first letter of compensation that Tamsir Onasis Conteh (1st accused) said he received from the ministry of lands.
According to him, state counsel, Abdourahman Bah objected to the admissibility of the document on the ground that it was not certified as a true copy as required of public documents.
In response, Tambadou submitted that secondary evidence is admissible under section 101 (1) of the Evidence Act and contended that the document is not a public document even whereas it was issued by a public institution because it is addressed to the first accused and as such it is his private document.
The Magistrate ruled that there is no contention that the document sought to be tendered is a copy of a letter  dated 13th June, 2005 and issued by the Department of Lands and Surveys to the first accused person herein.
He said according to the definition of public documents provided under section 113 (a)  (ii) of the Evidence Act, 1994 ‘documents forming the acts or records of the acts of official bodies are public documents.’
“The Department of Lands and Survey is indeed an official body and in that regard I have no doubt in my mind that this letter having been issued therefrom is indeed a public document and by virtue of the fact that it has been addressed to a private citizen does not make any difference,” he declared.
The trial Magistrate therefore said “the issue of whether or not the document is a public document is therefore resolved in favour of the state.”
“In conclusion  the trial Magistrate said  reading Section 101 (1) (e) and Section 101 (2) (c) together has the cumulative effect that only a certified copy of a public document and no other kind of secondary evidence is admissible.
“In light of these clearly worded specific statutory provisions, the general rule of relevance under Section 3 of the Evidence Act could not remedy and the letter is hereby rejected and marked as such,” he concluded.