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Former Chief Justice Joseph Wowo opens defence

Dec 13, 2013, 10:09 AM | Article By: Malamin L.M. Conteh

Former Chief Justice Joseph Wowo yesterday opened his defence in the trial involving him and former Attorney General Lamin AMS Jobarteh, at the Special Criminal Court in Banjul before Justice Emmanuel Nkea.

Justice Wowo and Lamin A.M.S. Jobarteh were arraigned on a thirteen-count indictment which included abuse of office, conspiracy to defeat Justice  and interference with witnesses, offences relating to Judicial proceeding, to giving false informing to a public officer, charges they denied.

At the commencement of hearing yesterday, Wowo’s counsel informed the court that he had filed a motion for a stay of proceedings based on the constitution of The Gambia.

He said the motion was also for the transfer of the case to the Supreme Court, which has the proper jurisdiction for the interpretation of the law.

State counsel Legunju Vitalisn objected to the motion, saying that upon looking at the affidavit they see no need to file an affidavit in opposition, adding that they could not put nothing on something, and argued that the motion lacked merit.

The trial judge overruled the motion on the grounds that it lacks merit and for incompetence, and asked the 1st accused to enter his defence.

Wowo, in his defence, told the court that he lives at Fajara, and he was once the President of the Gambia Court of Appeal, a one-time acting-Chief Justice and Chief Justice of The Gambia.

He said he was trained as a lawyer, and was called to the Nigerian Bar for more than 20 years, and had practiced in several jurisdictions in Nigeria, including The Gambia.

“I started practicing in The Gambia since 1998, at the Attorney General’s Chambers and, in 2006, I was appointed as a judge. I took an oath to abide by all the provisions of the Gambian constitution as a High Court Judge,” Wowo said in his defence.

“When I rose to the Court of Appeal, I took an oath to abide by the laws of The Gambia,” he went on, adding that he also sat as a judge of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the land.

As a chief Justice, he sits in chambers and he became the head of the Supreme Court, he said, adding that around 2012, he was the acting-Chief Justice, and he was in-charge of the administration of the Gambian Judiciary.

He said he renewed the contract of the trial judge, Justice Emmanuel Nkea, the sitting judge.

“While I was acting-Chief Justice, I carried out all the duties of the Chief Justice,” Justice Wowo stated.

 Asked by his counsel whether he had contact with any arm of the government, Wowo answer that he assumed office because he received a document of handing over notes from the outgoing Chief Justice, Justice Agim.

“Based on this handing over notes, I was acting and there is no law in The Gambia which says the appointee to ask the appointed whether all the rules are followed in appointing me,” he said.

“It is not my duty to ask my appointee, apart from the handing over; I was given a document from the Judicial Service Commission. The minute of the meeting and until now nobody or court of competent jurisdiction had challenged my acting capacity, and even the presidency has never challenged my acting capacity,” Wowo declared.

He was shown an exhibit by his counsel, and Justice Wowo said this was the handing over notes, which he read.

Justice Wowo added that it was through this document, the Gambian Judiciary was handed over to him, based on exhibit G, stating that it was wrong and malicious to say exhibit G was an inventory.

 The making of exhibit G was witnessed by PW5, John Belford, the Judicial Secretary, and before the making of exhibit G, he had never acted as acting-Chief Justice, Wowo told the court.

He added that when ever Agim was out of the jurisdiction, he was always appointed as acting CJ if he was within the jurisdiction.

Defence exhibit 8, he said, was a call for an emergency meeting of the Judicial Service Commission, and one of the businesses to be discussed was the notification of his appointment.

He named the members of the Judicial Service Commission who attended that meeting.

He added that defence exhibit 9 was the meeting of the Judicial Service Commission, and the minutes had clearly indicated that the outgoing Chief Justice had handed over the Judiciary to him (Wowo).

Wowo said the appointment of the acting CJ must have been oral by the President, stating that there were so many avenues to convey message for the quick administration of the judiciary.

He said exhibit G8 and G9 were written documents and he did not prepare any of them, but only appended his signature on the documents.

The meeting in exhibit G was held by the members of the Judicial Service Commission which was provided for by the constitution, he added.

“I know PW2, and the first time I met him was at the meeting in which he was invited to mediate by the former Attorney General, Lamin SMS Jobarteh, and as at that time, I was the President of the Gambia Court of Appeal and the acting-Chief Justice,” he stated.

“I was invited to mediate clearly on the issue of compensation and not on a land issue, and before I went to attend this meeting, I realised that these were issues not before any court, but the case was at Brikama High Court, and there is a decision,” Justice Wowo said.

He added that the issue to be discussed was about compensation, and that was not before any court, and in that meeting he did not force anybody and he did not direct anybody, he continued.

“I did not bring Alieu Barry to that meeting and, before that meeting, I did not have any prior discussion with Alieu Barry,” said Justice Wowo.

“The particulars are seriously misleading, and to deceive the Gambia people. It is clear that the issue of the compensation was not before any court in The Gambia, and the case was not filed before any court of appeal in The Gambia; and is not listed before any court. I have never sat or presided over a matter related to that case, and I have never sat over a matter that affected parties,” he adduced.

Alieu Barry clearly informed the parties that he was not a party that had a final decision, and he was not forced, Wowo continued, further stating that Alieu Barry won the case at the Brikama High Court in the dispute over the title to land.

Wowo further informed the court that he did not conspire with anybody to discuss any pending case before the court of appeal, adding that parties could always settled cases out of court.

When Mrs Bensouda came, the Principal Registrar asked her to go to the acting Master, Buba Jawo, and he Wowo later called both the acting Master and the Principal Registrar and asked Jawo in the presence of the Principal Registrar about the information on the pending land cases, and Jawo told him that they had told Bensouda to make a request through him (Wowo), he said.

“I asked them whether they have started collecting the information requested by Bensouda, and they said, ‘Yes’. While I was talking to them, Ms Anna came in and told me that they have been contracted to determine how long the land cases last. I told her to come formally, and she then left my office,” stated Wowo.

He said later one Jerreh and one Camara came to his office, and he asked them to bring all the data they had collected; and they informed him that they had put the data on paper.

“I realised that what they have collected is more than what they had requested, and the information they told me was only on land cases which brought suspicion,” he further stated.

Wowo maintained that exhibit A was his statement and he stands by it, and that based on this suspicions he wrote a letter to the NIA to investigate the issue.

Defence exhibit 2 was the letter he wrote to the NIA, it was investigated by a panel, he said, adding that he never instructed Mariama Ceesay-Mboob to delete one of the paragraphs of her letter.

“I transferred Mariama Ceesay because her office was under investigation, and her transfer letter was written by John Belford,” added Wowo.

The case continues on Monday.