By Kebba Jeffang
Justice O. Ottaba, the judge presiding over the case involving the members of the United Democratic Party (UDP), including its leader and secretary general, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, informed a packed courtroom that he was recusing himself from further hearing of the matter.
The judge made this unexpected announcement on Monday, May 16, 2016 at the proceedings held at the Special Criminal Court of the Banjul High Court.
The prosecution was represented by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Hadi Saleh Barkum, and his team of state counsels while Lawyer Antouman Gaye and several defence lawyers appeared for the accused persons.
“I wish to decline from a further hearing of this matter. This case file is therefore referred to the Chief Justice for further reassignment,” concluded the presiding judge.
It was expected that yesterday’s proceedings was for the ruling on whether there should be a stay of proceedings for counts 5 and 6 to be referred to the Supreme Court for interpretation as applied for by the defence and with objection from the prosecution.
Apparently, the judge’s announcement to recuse himself from the case came as a surprise to the lawyers, court officials and those in the courtroom.
It could be recalled that the 20 defendants, who are all members of the UDP, were initially brought to court on the 21st April and charged with 6 counts, namely ‘Unlawful assembly’, ‘Riot’, ‘Incitement of violence’, ‘Riotously interfering with vehicles’, ‘Holding a procession without a permit’ and ‘Disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession’. The charge sheet was later amended to add another count of ‘Conspiracy to commit felony’.
However, all the accused persons pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The presiding judge after the plea taking denied the accused persons bail.
Following yesterday’s development, the matter was therefore adjourned indefinitely for hearing after its assignment to a new judge by the Chief Justice.