16 August 2013

Gambia: Ex-Chief Justice Wowo Granted Bail

Lamin Sanyang

Justice Emmanuel Nkea of the Criminal Division of the Banjul High Court on Wednesday, 14 August, granted bail to Joseph Wowo, former Chief Justice of The Gambia after he was denied bail at the Banjul Magistrates' Court. In moving the motion, the defence counsel, lawyer Uzoma highlighted the affidavit submitted by the defence in support of the bail application. He drew the attention of the Court to paragraph 4(f) and 9 of the said affidavits, indicating that the applicant (Wowo) has reliable and personal sureties for a bail. The defence strongly argued that the applicant is no longer the Chief Justice and has no power or authority to interfere in the case.

He quoted the statements of the applicant in his affidavit in support of the motion, saying he would not interfere in the case and that his residence at Kairaba Avenue is easily accessible. Lawyer Uzoma told the court that the applicant (Wowo) would not jump bail as stated in his affidavit in support of the motion. Counsel Uzoma said he would make himself available throughout the trial. He referred the court to sections 19 (5) and 99 of the Criminal Procedure. He urged the court to exercise discretion in granting bail to the appellant (Wowo).

In the meantime, the leading prosecutor Daniel O. Kulo, Director of Special Litigation, after objecting to the bail application, declined to make further comments, but asked his junior counsel, Legenju Vitalisn, to take up the argument. When the trial judge asked for the reason, but Counsel Kulo said he prefers not to make any further comments on the case.

The state prosecutor Vitalisn told the court about the affidavit they filed in opposition to the motion. He urged the court to strike out the application, citing sections 90, 91and 92 of the Evidence Act. He argued that the first honour of the Applicant (Wowo) is to provide materials sufficient to support the grant of bail. He further argued that the affidavit in support of the motion has not provided any sufficient material for the court to grant bail to the Applicant. He said section 19 (5) of the constitution quoted by the Applicant is meant for the lower court. Therefore, he said, there is no motion before the court.

However, the trial judge has granted bail to the Applicant (Wowo), saying that the state has not given strong reasons for the court to deny him bail. He said the offences the defendant is accused of are bailable and the granting of bail ought not to be unjustifiably denied. He noted that the denial of bail would be justifiable where the state has led concrete evidence that the applicant would jump bail or interfere with the investigation as was the case in The State v. Alhagie Jobe (Daily Observer Deputy Editor-in-Chief). "I have not seen any strong reasons why I should not admit the Applicant to bail. I will grant the prayers sought, but in order to assuage the fears that have been raised, I will impose very stringent conditions," said Justice Nkea. Subsequently, the former Chief Justice was admitted to bail in the sum of D1 million and two Gambian sureties in like sum, one or both of whom must deposit title to property within the Greater Banjul Area. The Applicant was ordered to deposit all his travelling documents with the Principal Registrar of the High Court and shall not be allowed to leave his residence, except between the hours of 11 am and 5 pm. He was ordered to report at the Kairaba Police Station thrice a week.

The trial judge indicated earlier in his ruling that the supervisory jurisdiction under section 133 of the Constitution has given powers to the High Court to use any order or directives against the decision of a subordinate court or tribunal. This, he said, is an application in equity for a review of decision of the Banjul Magistrates' Court refusing the Applicant bail.

The trial judge said he finds it necessary to emphasize that the granting of bail for such offenses is not a favour to be distributed based on nationality or ethnic origin. He said it is an issue that should be guided by the law and the surrounding circumstances of each case. He said he found that this particular case was speculative for the trial court to reach the conclusion that the Applicant would jump bail only because he is not a Gambian.

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