Gainako’s court correspondence received a letter from the office of the Chief Justice sent to him by the defence lawyers. We now produce the letter from the office of the Chief justice here:
His Lordship the Hon, Chief Justice
High Court Complex
Banjul, The Gambia
RE – THE STATE VS LAMIN SONKO AND 24 ORS. Criminal Case No: HC/178/16/CR/059/AO
On Thursday the 19th May, 2016 lead counsel Mr. A.A.B. Gaye was served with a notice that the above case is to be transferred to the Mansakonko High Court and was in fact set down before that Court for the 26th May 2016.
Concerned about the said notice, senior members of the Defence team requested for audience by Your Lordship as the authority responsible for assigning cases in the High Court, which was graciously granted.
The team has brought to your Lordship’s attention, its concerns about the potential denial of fair hearing and therefore justice to the accused persons implicit in the transfer of the case over 200 kilometres from the scene of the offence, away from the witnesses and the evidence and more importantly outside the legal jurisdiction of the court that should, ordinarily, have been responsible, the Kanifing High Court.
We again reiterate to your Lordship that the offences of which the accused persons stand charged under sections 59B, 69, 78,368 of the Criminal Code and section 5 of the Public Order Act are misdemeanors. Those very sections and the applicable criminal procedure code envisages that such offences would be dealt with summarily by the magistrate’s courts which are the courts designed for dealing which such matters. While we recognize that it was the State that chose to file this case by way of information, it behooves the judiciary, the State and all of us to ensure that the accused person’s are given every possibility and access availed to them by the Constitution and the law to defend themselves.
These offences were alleged to have taken place in Kanifing and should properly be tried in Kanifing or within its proximity so that the accused persons, their witnesses and family members are able to attend the case without any difficulty. More importantly, so that no constraints, barriers or obstacle is put in the way of their obtaining counsel of their choice to defend them. This as Your Lordship is well aware are rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the Republic.
The accused persons are represented by 15 counsel who also represent the accused persons in the case of The State vs Ousainu Darboe and 19 Ors. (Criminal Case No: HC/179/16/CR/060/AO). (Incidentally that case is also adjourned to the 26th May 2016.) All the 15 lawyers practice within the jurisdiction of Banjul/Kanifing where the alleged offence occurred. No lawyer has their practice in the Mansakonko jurisdiction where the offence did not take place. While this may not pose any challenge to the prosecution with state resources at its behest, it does pose a serious obstacle to the accused persons’ access to legal representation. Travelling to and from Mansakonko to attend a case which could and ought properly to have been heard summarily in Kanifing Jurisdiction is not an option for the 15 member Defence team.
Under the circumstances we once again underscore the impropriety of assigning the case to Mansakonko jurisdiction. Such a step is unprecedented and a stain on the perception of the fairness of the judicial system. We question the legitimacy and motive for doing so.
As a first step, we are compelled to issue this official protest with the sincere expectation that Your Lordship will, reconsider the assignment and that in order to avert a failure of justice, the Judicial administration will make arrangements for the accused persons to be tried within the jurisdiction of the offence as is proper.
It is our genuine hope that we share the mutual desire to uphold the integrity and honour of the judiciary and administration of justice system of The Gambia, and that considerations of this long term objective shall prevail in this matter.
Mr. Antouman A. B. Gaye for and on behalf of
Legal Practitioners for the Accused Persons
cc: Attorney General
Director of Public Prosecution
Justice Abi – Mansakonko High Court