By Yankuba Jallow / Kebba Secka
Lawyer Sheriff Kumba Jobe, Counsel for the twelve soldiers facing treason and 8 other counts, battled it out with Lawyer Mohammed Abubakar Counsel for the State, on the adjournment sought by the State.
This happened on Monday 5th February 2018, before the panelists of the General Court-Martial presiding over the trial of the twelve soldiers.
Counsel MB Abubakar who is also the Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (DDPP), applied for an adjournment for the State till Tuesday 13th February 2018. According to Abubakar, the prosecution is in possession of a telephone handset that has over a thousand audios; that this in the possession of the Registry at the High Court. He said they are transcribing the audios for the purpose of the trial and that the audios therein, contained the statements of more than a hundred persons; that before the 13th of February, they will be done with the transcription of the audios.
On his objection, defence Lawyer SK Jobe said all the adjournments in the trial is always at the instance of the prosecution and that this adjournment is unreasonable and unacceptable. He said the matter has been under investigation since July 2017 and the prosecution commence the case in November 2017; that since then, the prosecution has not tell the Court-Martial how serious they are about the whole issue.
“The prosecution cannot dictate the pace of this trial and they are not doing what is expected of them”, he said.
He said the accused persons are not on bail and they have a constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable time; that the Court has granted the prosecution adjournment which he described as too much adding that if the Court-Martial continues to grant adjournments at the instance of the prosecution, it will prejudice the rights of the accused persons as enshrined in the Constitution. He urged the Court to consider that the accused persons are not on bail and by granting the prosecution an adjournment, will prolong the trial and will continue to keep the accused persons languishing in prison. He said granting adjournment is at the discretion of the Court-Martial but it should be exercised judiciously. He urged the Court-Martial to disregard the State’s application for adjournment and allow the matter to proceed without delay.
On his counter argument, DDPP Abubakar said the submissions of Lawyer SK Jobe is misleading; that whilst the Constitution guarantees fair hearing at a reasonable time, it does not mean the trial should be done in a hurry.
“The interests of the prosecutor, the accused persons and the public are important in the conduct of criminal trials”, said Lawyer MB Abubakar.
“We have called ten witness in a space of two months. So the defence should commend the prosecution for that”, he said.
The Court-Martial resolved the matter in favour of DDPP Abubakar that the purpose of criminal trial should be done in a reasonable time and not in a hurry.
Before the bitter argument between the two lawyers, the prosecution brought in two witnesses who testified before the Court-Martial.
Corporal Kebba Ndour testified as the ninth prosecution witness (PW9) in the trial. He said he is a serving member of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) attached to the Fajara Military Barracks and resides in Brusubi; that he was the Chief Regimental Police (RP) at the Barracks of the escape of Sergeant Yerro Jatta; that the function of the RP is to maintain discipline and help the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) in his duty. He said Lance Corporal Ebrima Jallow (the 8th accused person) was on duty and in the morning when he came, Ebrima told him that the detainee (Yerro Jatta) has not returned; that Ebrima told him that Yerro obtained permission from him to go to somewhere. He told the Court-Martial that immediately after getting information from Ebrima Jallow, he reported the matter to the RSM.
Under cross-examination, the witness said at the time Yerro Jatta escaped, he was not at work but came to know the issue the following morning when he was told. On re-examination, the witness was asked by DDPP Abubakar who informed him the issue.
At this juncture Lawyer Jobe objected to the question saying it offended the rule of re-examination which is to clear doubt that emerged from examination in chief or cross-examination; that there is nothing ambiguous about who informed him on the escape of Yerro Jatta which is already in evidence; that in re-examination, the only question allowed is to clear ambiguity and that the question of the prosecutor did not fall into that category. He relied on the provision of the Law of Evidence written by Hassan B. Jallow on page 226, to support his argument. He said the prosecutor cannot in re-examination, introduce new things.
The Court in its ruling held that the witness should answer the question and overruled the objection of Lawyer Sheriff Kumba Jobe.
Prosecution witness 10 (PW10), Corporal Muhammed Sanneh said he is a resident of Serrekunda Nding and that he is a soldier attached to the Fajara Barracks as an Infantry.
He said he was the Guard Commander; that whilst on duty, Yero Jatta came out from the guard room and met him outside. He said this happened around 10pm when the detainee (Yerro) asked him the whereabouts of the 8th accused person; that Yero went to the 8th accused person whilst he went to collect his combat clothes from the guard room.
“Jallow (the 8th accused person) told me that the detainee went to meet someone at the gym and that was the time I asked how he can allow a detainee go without an escort. Ebrima Jallow told me that he (the detainee) was going to meet Lance Corporal Samboujang Bojang, the 9th accused person”, he said.
“He said Ebrima used Samboujang’s phone to call Yero who told them that he was at the police station behind the Barracks”, the witness said.
The witness said his duties as the Guard Commander includes knowing what is going in and out of the barracks.
Under cross-examination, the witness said the Regimental Police, Lance Corporal Ebrima Jallow, was not under him; that he was not there to monitor him. He said regarding the detainees, it is the sole function of the regimental police and not the Guard Commander.
“Was it a duty of a Guard Commander whilst under duty to cook”, asked Lawyer Jobe.
“I was cooking what I will eat”, the witness responded.
He said he served GAF for 13 years; that the day Yero escaped, they were five persons on duty but he cannot remember their names.
The matter was adjourned to February 13th 2018, at 10am for continuation of hearing.