The former President of the Gambia Court of Appeal, Justice Joseph Wowo was on Friday, 18th of January, 2013 arraigned before Magistrate Dawda Jallow of the Banjul Magistrates' Court on one count charge of giving false information to a public officer and subsequently remanded in Prison custody.
According to the particulars of offence, it is stated that the accused person on or about the 3rd of December, 2012 in the city of Banjul, Republic of The Gambia,
wrote a letter to the National Intelligence Agency (N.I.A) informing them that Mrs. Amie Bensouda conducted herself in a manner that was undermining the administration of the Gambian judiciary by asking for pending cases data, information he knew to be false at the time. He pleaded not guilty as charged.
Defence counsel Uzuma Achigbue applied for his client to be granted bail pending the hearing of the case, adding that the offence is a misdemeanor which he said is bailable. The accused person, said the defence counsel, would never jump bail and would be available throughout the trial to answer to the charge preferred against him.
According to Counsel Achigbue, his client has under his belt 22 years as a legal practitioner and is still a principal judicial officer. He said the accused person has reasonable and reliable sureties and therefore urged the court to grant him bail with a surety but the trial magistrate interjected, saying that counsel cannot dictate him as to how he should grant bail to the accused person.
Counsel Achigbue argued that the application of an adjournment by the prosecution to call witnesses shows that investigations into this matter are already concluded and that his client would not interfere with any witnesses.
The defence urged the court to grant bail and to take into consideration a case involving the former Alkalo of Sinchu Jenum, Alhagie Ismaila Jallow, who is currently standing trial before the same court of a similar offence as being faced by Mr. Wowo and to exercise its discretion in favour of the accused person.
For his part, the police prosecutor, Sergeant Almameh Manga submitted that they are vehemently opposed to the application of bail on the grounds that investigations into this matter are still ongoing. He said granting bail to the accused will be fatal to the case since the investigations have to do with the Gambian Judiciary. He said there is the likelihood for the accused to tamper with investigations and influence witnesses as well given that some of the potential witnesses serving the judiciary are directly answerable to the accused person.
According to the prosecutor, the defence has asserted that the accused is a principal judicial officer which, he said, is the main reason why they are opposed to the granting bail. He added that the accused was arrested on the 17th of this month and was since then in police custody and if released on bail he would tamper with investigations which he said is in high gear.
"If the accused person is granted bail he will jump bail", he submitted.
Prosecutor Manga distinguished the case of Alhagie Ismaila Jallow of Jenum which the defence counsel referred to from that of Justice Wowo by pointing out that Jallow's case was already investigated whilst that of Justice Wowo is still being investigated. He said bail is at the discretion of the court and prayed that such discretion be exercised in favour of the prosecution and therefore urged the Court to remand the accused person in prison custody.
Replying on points of law, the defence counsel submitted that it is trite law that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, arguing that there is a charge sheet before the court and that the accused person no longer occupies his previous position to be able to tamper with witnesses. The defence finally urged the court to exercise its discretion judicially and judiciously.
The presiding magistrate ruled that bail is at the discretion of the court and that he has heard both applications but that of the prosecution is au fait with the facts at hand which, he said, cannot be ignored. He therefore refused the application for bail.
The matter was adjourned till 28 January 2013 for hearing.
For the information of the reader, section 162 of the Criminal Procedure Code states:
"Before or during the hearing of any case, it shall be lawful for the court in its discretion ..... commit him (the accused) to prison, ..... conditioned for his appearance at the time and place to which such hearing or further hearing shall be adjourned:
Provided that no such adjournment shall be for more than fifteen clear days, or if the accused person has been committed to prison, for more than seven clear days, the day following that on which the adjournment is made being counted as the first day."