May 4, 2017, 10:07 AM
Ebrima Jawara and four other senior Agriculture ministry officials yesterday appeared before Justice Mohammed Dan Azumi Balarabe of the High Court for a bail application.
The other persons were Dr Alasan Bah, Sulayman Manneh, Lamin Fatajo and Momodou Lamin Mass.
Ebrima Jawara and his co-accused were on 7 September 2015, arraigned before Magistrate Fatou Darboe of the Banjul Magistrates’ Court on a ten-count charge, ranging from economic crime, stealing by clerk or servant, to theft and abuse of office, which they all denied.
The case was then transferred to the high court for lack of jurisdiction.
When the case was called, DPP S.H. Barkun represented the state, while Hawa Sissay-Sabally, Sissoho and Bah appeared for the 1st accused, Modou Drammeh and Ida Drammeh appeared for the 2nd accused, Combeh Gaye-Coker and S. Gaye appeared for the 3rd accused and E. Singhateh appeared for the 5th accused.
The DPP then brought to the notice of the court that this was one of the cases transferred from the subordinate court on the grounds of jurisdiction.
He said the bill of indictment had not been filed due to the fact that investigations are still ongoing.
He asked the court to give them time to liaise with the police and get the case file for legal advice and probably file a bill of indictment.
“I am opposed to the application on several grounds. My lord, I was able to talk to my client in court. He was arrested on 7th September 2015,” said defence counsel Sisay-Sabally.
Counsel said that her client willingly went to the station to clarify a certain issue and he was arrested at Serrekunda Police Station, and subsequently transferred to the police headquarters in Banjul where he was charged in the presence of his lawyer Sissoho.
Several hours after counsel Sissoho left the police headquarters, the 1st accused and others were taken to Banjul Magistrates’ Court where they were arraigned and remanded without an opportunity to be represented by a counsel.
“We are in court without an indictment. I don’t know why they are in court,” the defence counsel added.
“I am submitting that investigations have been completed for an indictment to be brought to court and, based on that, I am making an oral application for bail for my client,” counsel further submitted.
In response, the DPP said taking into account there was nothing before the court, they only had the charge from the magistrate court.
He said the practice direction that the counsel relied on was not in any way compelling the court to hear an oral bail application.
“I am making a counter application for the accused persons’ to come up with a formal bail application,” DPP said.
The trial judge, in his ruling, said it would be in the interest of justice for a bail application to be done formally, and called on the defence counsel to file a formal bail application supported by an affidavit explaining to the court why it should exercise its discretion in granting bail.
Most of the defence counsel said they had already filed their bail application, and the DPP was served in court.
Counsel Sissay-Sabally then asked the court to make an order for the accused to have access to their families and counsel, saying her client informed her that since they were arrested, they were not allowed access to their families and were still wearing the same clothes since their arrest.
Counsel Ida Drammeh said it was completely unusual, unconstitutional and an unfortunate situation.
She said as officers of the court they should do what is necessary to uphold the constitution.
She said all what the court could do was to ask them to comply with the order, failure to do which they would be charged with contempt of court.
Counsel E. Singhateh said the reason they were denied access was because they were not being remanded by the court.
He said they were being held as common convicts in solitary confinement.
The defence counsel said they were told the accused persons were held in the maximum security wing.
DPP said they did not know about it, but they would look into it and see if the facts were true.
The trial judge also said he was not aware of it and did not know how the prison administration operates, adding that he could not make orders in the air, and as such he was urging them to put it in writing.
He said all the accused persons have rights, and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The matter was then adjourned until 22 September 2015, for hearing of the bail applications.