Lawyers argue over whether court can impose legal aid on 3 former NIA operatives

Jun 11, 2021, 5:15 PM | Article By: Alagie Baba 

Lawyers in the ongoing trial of former officials of NIA have argued on whether the court can impose Legal Aid (NALA) on Baboucar Sallah, Tamba Masireh and Lamin Darboe who told the court they don’t want to be represented by NALA.

The three accused persons on Wednesday, 9th June 2021 informed Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara that they wanted to defend themselves in their case.

Justice Kumba Sillah on the 2nd June 2021 made an order for NALA to represent Baboucar Sallah and Tamba Masireh, while Lamin Darboe was absent on that day.

Lawyer Ahmed K. Ceesay, the executive secretary of the NALA informed the court that the consent of the three accused persons should be acquired first before NALA entering their representation for them in the case. Ceesay said representation has to be based on consent as he reminded the court that NALA was previously representing the three accused persons, but withdrew during the course of trial. He said NALA withdrew because the three accused persons asked them to do something that lacked legal basis.

Ceesay maintained that every person is entitled to legal aid under Section 24 of the constitution, but it has to be based on consent.

“It entirely depends on our former clients who have the right to retain us or sack us,” Ceesay said.

He said because of NALA’s previous encounter with the three accused persons, there was apparent breakdown in their relationship which underpins trust and confidence.

“Our objection has soured our relationship with the Legal Aid. We have asked them to file for the presiding judge to recuse herself from the case, but they refused,” Baboucar Sallah, the 4th accused persons said.

“Do you still want Legal Aid to represent you?” the judge enquired.

“The reason why I refused to be represented by Legal Aid is because they refused to file what I asked them to file,” Sallah replied.

The judge asked both Tamba Masireh and Lamin Darboe whether they wanted Legal Aid to represent them. Their response was in the negative, saying they didn’t want NALA to represent them.

Lawyer Combeh Gaye for the prosecution said the court had given the accused persons time to acquire lawyers of their choice. She added that since the three had failed to get a lawyer on their own, the court has no other choice than to order for Legal Aid to represent them.

“The accused persons cannot use the situation to hold the court to ransom or delay the trial,” she said.

Lawyer Christopher E. Mene requested to be heard on the matter which was approved by the court.

Lawyer Mene quoted Section 24 sub-section 3 paragraph (d) which provides that: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be permitted to defend himself or herself before the court in person or, at his or her own expense, by a legal representative of his or her own choice.”

Lawyer Mene put emphasis on the word “entitled”, adding it means a right.

“Now, if I have a right and I don’t want to exercise it, can it be imposed on me?” Lawyer Mene quizzed.

He upheld that one can be entitled to something, but the person may not be interested in it.

“It cannot under the face of the law be imposed on the person. There is no compulsion in law. Once there is an imposition, then there is no right. Once the person chooses not to exercise that right, then it does not apply anymore,” he said.

Lawyer Mene submitted that the accused persons are permitted by law to defend themselves, adding both the constitution and the Legal Aid Act are in conformity. He said the Legal Aid Act and the constitution both speak the same language.

He said Legal Aid cannot be imposed on the accused persons without their consent. He urged the court to allow each of the accused persons to defend himself in the interest of justice and fair-hearing.

Lawyer Uzoma Achibue associated himself with the submissions by Lawyer Mene. He urged the court to allow the accused persons represent themselves considering the repeated adjournments the court took to deal with the issue of legal representation of the accused persons.

The case was adjourned to Monday, 14th June 2021 at 1 p.m.