Acting Principal Magistrate Kebba Baldeh of the Banjul Magistrates’ Court Tuesday threatened to revoke the bails of the 2nd, 3rd and 12th accused persons in the two-count charges trial of neglect of official duties and abuse of office against thirty former government officials if they fail to appear in court by the next adjourned date.
When the case was called yesterday for hearing, the court noticed that the 2nd, 3rd 12th, 29th and 30th accused persons were absent, which prompted the presiding magistrate to ask their whereabouts.
Lawyer LS Camara, defence counsel for most of the accused persons said the 29th and 30th accused persons were out of jurisdiction and they were not around at the time the charges were leveled against them. He said he knows that the others were granted bail but he could not tell their whereabouts.
In the last sitting, the court ordered the prosecution to obtain a fiat (authoritative decision that has absolute sanction) from the Attorney General to proceed with their case.
During yesterday’s hearing, police prosecuting officer Sub-Inspector A Badjie announced that they had received the fiat from the AG to prosecute the accused persons.
Prosecutor Badjie said charges against the accused persons are criminal, and that the accused persons must endeavour to be attending court proceedings at any given time since they cannot ascertain their absence.
Badjie said the case should have made progress in yesterday’s hearing but the absence of the mentioned accused persons have caused a setback and urged the court to grant the prosecution’s prayers.
Lawyer Camara however responded by arguing that the business of the day was for the prosecution to produce the fiat from the Attorney General to show that they consented to proceed with the case, saying the prosecutor was avoiding that.
He said apart from that the 29th and 30th accused persons who were not before the court, the case could not proceed without them so long as their names are on the charge sheet.
He submitted that the Constitution is very clear and referred the court to Section 24 (3) (f) of the Constitution, saying the charge on the 3rd accused person is felony and he is represented by his attorney, and so the trial can proceed in his absence. He said to ask for the revocation of the mentioned accused persons’ bails is untenable and wrong before the law.
Camara argued that where an accused persons fails to come to court, revoking their bails is unreasonable, saying the court should first summon their sureties and ask them to produce the accused persons, which if they fail they should tell the court why their bonds should not be forfeited to the state.
Camara submitted that if the three absented accused persons were in court the matter will not proceed because they do not have fiat and secondly they should apply to strike out the names of the 29th and 30th accused persons because they cannot be tried in absentia, urging the court to refuse the prosecution’s application.
Prosecutor Badjie applied to tender the fiat that gives the prosecution the go-ahead to prosecute the accused persons. The fiat is dated 24th October, 2016 signed by the Attorney General and minister of Justice Mama Fatima Singateh.
He further applied for the 13th to 28th accused persons to enter their pleas but Lawyer Camara objected to the application, maintaining that the charges were wrong and the prosecution should put their house in order. He said the accused persons who were present in court should not take their pleas in the absence of the other accused persons, urging the court to retain its 18th October, 2016 order.
In his ruling, the presiding magistrate said after listening to both submissions and arguments he would retain the court’s 18th October 2016 order that the accused persons present in court could not take their pleas in the absence of the absented ones.
He said if the absented accused persons did not appear in court by the next adjourned date he will issue a bench warrant against them and their sureties.
The case is adjourned to 14th November, 2016 at 1pm.
by Lama S Jallow