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Monday, 13 January 2014 19:20(JollofNews) – As if being given a two year jail term last month for abuse of office and giving false information to a public officer was not good enough, ex-Gambian Justice Minister was last Thursday given another two years jail term by the same Special Criminal Court in Banjul.
Lamin Jobarteh was jailed together with former acting Chief Justice of the Gambia, Joseph Wowo, by Justice Emmanuel Nkea for abusing their office, fraud, breach of trust, conspiracy to defeat justice, interference with witnesses, giving false information and false assumption of authority.
The judge said he was satisfied that Mr Wowo and Jobarteh had conspired to interfere with a judicial process when they organised a meeting in Mr Jobarteh’s home to discuss a land dispute case involving a Gambian-based Dutch businessman.
He said the composition and venue of the meeting in question raises concerns as it was not only attended by the parties and their lawyers but a sitting president of the Gambia Court of Appeal and the serving minister of Justice.
“By their presence and effective participation, it seems to me that the Mr Wowo and Jobarteh had some interest in the matter,” the judge added.
“During the meeting, the 2nd accused [Mr Jobarteh] made certain remarks that had a compelling effect on the businessman and the 1st accused [Mr Wowo] affirmatively endorsed such remarks. Since there was an agreement between Mr Wowo and Jobarteh to attend the meeting, and since Mr Wowo endorsed the compelling demands of Mr Jobarteh, I am satisfied that they conspired and their interventions at the meeting, whether taken separately or together constitutes strong evidence of interference with a judicial process.’’ the judge posited.
Justice Nkea further stated that Mr Wowo’s presence at the meeting was inappropriate and lacking in probity.
On Mr Wowo’s appointment as acting Chief Justice of the Gambia, the judge said he was satisfied with evidence produced by both the prosecution and defence that Mr Wowo assumed the office and executed the responsibilities of acting Chief Justice of the Gambia without lawful authority.
He said although Mr Wowo had tried to rely on the handing over notes from the outgoing Chief Justice Agim as the legal basis for his assumption of the office and functions of acting Chief Justice of the Gambia, there was no evidence to suggest that he was appointed by President Yahya Jammeh as enshrined in the constitution.
He added: “It is plain that the appointment of an acting Chief Justice is the sole prerogative of His Excellency the President of the Republic of the Gambia pursuant to 1997 Constitution of the Gambia. Thus the power to appoint an acting Chief Justice is a power vested in the executive. The exercise of this discretion can be communicated through different administrative channels, and because of the presumption of regularity of such executive processes, once that executive decision is communicated in writing, the appointee is presumed to be lawfully authorised to hold that office.
“There is overwhelming documentary evidence before this court to confirm that such appointment is always in writing and at the instance of the executive. But the only thing that I have not seen, and is yet to see; is the written communication appointing Hon. Justice Wowo as acting Chief Justice of The Gambia.”
Justice Nkea said former Chief Justice Agim did not have the power to appoint Mr Wowo as his successor and that it does not matter whether he [Agim] had informed the Judicial Service Commission of his decision to hand over the judiciary to Mr Wowo.
“That proposition is an affront to good judgment,” he said. “It does not follow that when a person is appointed to an office he automatically becomes part of the executive or the representative of his appointer. Otherwise, it would be erroneously conceived that because all Judges are appointed by His Excellency the President, they are part of the executive. That suggestion by Mr Wowo is accordingly discountenanced for lacking in merit.
“Since there is no evidence whether documentary or otherwise of any executive process appointing Hon. Justice Wowo as acting Chief Justice, I am bound to reach the conclusion that he assumed the office and performed the functions of the acting Chief Justice of the Gambia without authority, and this I shall hold as a fact. I am therefore satisfied that this offence has been made out.”
The judge said he finds it fit to impose a custodial sentence on the two men in the interest of the state.
Written by PK Jarju
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