Gambia: Court Asks Police to Compensate Man for Unlawful Detention

The high court has asked the police to pay compensation to one Sylvanus Johnson for his unlawful detention by the law enforcement body beyond 72 hours as provided for in the Constitution.

Mr Johnson, through his lawyer, Malick H.B. Jallow brought action against the police on the 16th December 2020 seeking declaration that his detention from 4th to 19th April 2020 constitutes a violation of his right to personal liberty as enshrined in the Constitution. Also, he asked the court to make an order for the police to pay adequate compensation to his client, Sylvanus Johnson.

Johnson said he was not arraigned before any court of law during the course of his prolonged detention. He testified that he was detained at the Police headquarters all this while.

Lawyer Jallow submitted that the Constitution guarantees the inalienable right to liberty of his client which the police ought to have respected and upheld at all times. He contended that the detention was wrongful, illegal and arbitrary relying on section 19 sub-section 3 and section 37 subsection 1 of the Constitution. Lawyer Jallow said the action of the police violated the fundamental right of his client to liberty, adding 72 hours is the limit for detention.

The Judge said section 19 subsection 6 provides basis for compensation for violations of person's liberty. Jallow contended that the police misconducted itself by the unlawful detention.

Counsel M.D. Mballow for the Police and Attorney General opposed the application. In an affidavit deposed to by one Ramou Sambou, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, she said Sylvanus Johnson was arrested on the 7th April 2020 on an allegation of rape pursuant to a complaint lodged against him on the 6th April 2020 by a 10-year-old. Sambou went ahead to state that Johnson was cautioned, his voluntary statement was obtained and was charged before a court on the 13th April 2020, but due to the pandemic, the courts proceedings were suspended. She also said bail was opened for Johnson, but it was his fault that he couldn't fulfill the bail conditions.

The presiding judge, Justice Alexander Osei Tutu said it was found that the police detained the plaintiff beyond 72 hours contrary to the expressed provision of the Constitution without any good cause or justification.

On the Covid-19 pandemic, the Court disagreed with Ramou Sambou because the courts were opened to hear emergency cases such as matters of bail application. The Judge said the argument raised by Ramou Sambou that bail was opened for Mr Johnson does not absolve the police since she couldn't tell whether the said bail was opened and what resulted in the delay. The Judge said the information Deputy Commissioner Sambou fed the court appears as a guess work and not with real work. The Judge said Deputy Commissioner Sambou was engaged in guess work in her sworn affidavit, adding the officer who handled the matter could have clearer information than Deputy Commissioner Sambou, who could not even provide dates.

Was Sylvanus Johnson's Detention Justifiable?

The Judge said the police "woefully failed" to justify his detention. He said from the facts of the case, bail was possible in the case.

He said the Constitution makes it mandatory for the police to provide Sylvanus Johnson compensation under section 19 subsection 6. The court said going by what the police stated, it can be deduced from the facts that Mr Johnson was unlawfully detained for nine days while going by Mr Johnson's averments, it can be deduced that the police unlawfully detained him for 13 days.

Johnson claimed that he had health problems owing to the detention. However, the Judge said there was no medical proof to assist the court to put it into consideration.

The court cautioned the police that they should at always respect and uphold people's right to liberty as he called on them never to deprive people their rights and liberties.

He declared that prolonged detention of Mr Johnson beyond 72 hours was a violation of his rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution. He ordered for D40,000 as compensation in favour of Mr Johnson for the hardship and distress he underwent.

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