By Mamadou Dem
The Supreme Court of The Gambia presided over by a panel of seven judges and headed by the Chief Justice Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan, on Wednesday, 12th November, 2014 commuted the death penalty imposed on the erstwhile Chief of Defence Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces, Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba and six others to life imprisonment.
It would be recalled that the applicants submitted before a full bench of the Supreme Court for a review of their dismissed appeal by the Gambia Court of Appeal and upheld by the Supreme Court. The six other applicants were Brigadier General Omar Bun Mbye, Bo Badjie, Lt. Colonel Kawsu Camara (alias bombardier), former Deputy Inspector General of Police Modou Gaye, former diplomat Gibril Ngorr Secka and Abdoulie Joof, a businessman.
Delivering the ruling in a crowded court room, the Chief Justice, Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan states that the motion before the court was seeking for the review of the court’s decision dated 19th of October, 2012. He said each of the applicants was sentenced to death by the High Court on the 15th of July, 2010. He cited various sections of the Supreme Court Rules regarding the review of the case as well as the offences of which the appellants were convicted.
According to the Chief Justice, the applicants were dissatisfied with the decision of the High Court which warranted them to file an appeal before the Gambia Court of Appeal, but the appeal was dismissed; adding that the applicants have not expressed any exceptional circumstances regarding the Supreme Court Rules for the review of the case. He said the sections which they were charged under states that “No one should be convicted on uncorroborated evidence.”
Justice Chowhan further cited the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights as well as Section 181 of the Evidence Act and Section 82 of the 1997 Constitution. He said the National Assembly’s failure to review or implement Section 18 of the said Constitution for the death sentence to be ratified or abolish as earlier argued by the defence was not the issue before the court. Therefore, he said, the court cannot speculate on something that is not before it. He further made reference to the Senegalese Constitution and also chapter 20 of the Gambia Constitution.
“No such motion has been cited and the death penalty has not been abolished,” said the Chief Justice.
“As I am concern, the motion failed and therefore it is dismissed,” he declared.
On the other hand, Justice Janneh agreed with the statement of the trial Judge (Justice Amadi) that he would not convict the applicants based on uncorroborated evidence by one of the witnesses who is an accomplished witness, noting his evidence was corroborated.
Justice Janneh totally agreed with the ruling of the Court of Appeal that there was no miscarriage of Justice. He added that the law has stated that no one should be sentenced to death by any court if no violence or death has been committed or occurred.
Further citing the International Treaties and law on human and people’s life, the Supreme Court judge noted that some of these treaties have not abolished the death sentence and it is therefore left to the desirability of civil society and society for the National Assembly to abolish or review the death penalty.
At this juncture, he proceeded to impose life imprisonment on each of the appellants.
Other judges associated themselves with the verdict delivered by the Justice Janneh. They further concluded that a case has not been made out warranting Gambia’s Highest Court to review the case. However, the court holds that the conviction is sustained, but the death sentence is substituted to life imprisonment.