By Yankuba Jallow
Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara of the Banjul High Court has adjourned the NIA 9 Case to October to enable her deliver ruling in respect of an application brought by the accused persons for to recuse herself from hearing the case.
Five former officials of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) have filed a motion asking the Judge [Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara] to recuse herself from the case as they accused her of being bias against them. They accused the judge of always taking sides with the prosecution, making them feel like the Judge is part of the prosecution.
Paulin Bakurim, the defence lawyer for Yankuba Badjie, a former director general of NIA moved and adopted her motion dated 15th July 2021 and filed on the same day. Lawyer Uzoma A. for Haruna Suso also moved and adopted his motion dated the 14th July and filed on the 15th July 2021. Lawyer Uzoma also relied on the Judges’ Supplementary Code of Conduct Act. Baboucar Sallah, Tamba Masireh and Lamin Darboe, who all appeared in-person, moved and adopted their motions. Lawyer Combeh Gaye for the State moved and adopted their motion dated the 3rd August and filed on the 4th August 2021. All of them urged the court to decide in their favour. The Judge has set-aside 11 October 2021 at 1 pm for ruling on the motion.
The NIA 9 Case has been ongoing for four years now. The accused persons are standing trial on 25 criminal counts including murder, torture and conspiracy before Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara. The case has suffered several setbacks and it is still at Defence stage. Only two of the seven accused persons have concluded their testimony in this long-standing trial.
Yankuba Badjie, a former director general of the NIA said “it is an open secret and widely reported in both local and the international media that Senior Counsel Ousman Sillah was shot and severely injured in a gruesome, dastardly and inhumane attack sometime in 2004 by unknown person or persons which almost took his life, if not by the special grace of the almighty God.”
Badjie stated that during the time of the incident he was a student studying in the United States of America.
“This cowardly and unjustifiable attack on the learned trial judge’s (Justice Kumba Sillah’s) father was blamed on the previous regime and in particular on the NIA,” Badjie said.
The security officer said the Judge among her other siblings and other relatives and family friends would have been greatly traumatized by that experience.
Yankuba Badjie said he observed that the prosecution exerts so much unusual influence on the Judge and most of the times get whatever they want inexplicably.
Badjie who became the DG of NIA in 2014, said since their trial begun he had his reservation in her presiding over the case in light of the alleged victimization of her father which will naturally make her have hatred or dislike for the NIA and its officials, but he refrained from doing so at that stage, opting rather to give the Judge the benefit of doubt.
“I have however, observed in the case since then that the learned trial judge had persistently and consistently pandered to the dictates of the prosecution and is more favourably disposed towards them,” Badjie said.
The security officer said the Judge had consistently accepted the position of the prosecution no matter how strange or inconsistent it is with the law.
“I have also observed that her ladyship has consistently and persistently shown impatience, hostility, aggressive and antagonistic disposition towards the Defence and the Defence Counsels. That she frequently interrupts Defence Counsels rudely when addressing the court and oftentimes asks them to keep quiet and not to disturb her court,” Badjie said.
Badjie maintained that the Judge targeted and intimidated Lawyer Ibrahim Jallow, who was representing Sheikh Omar Jeng until he withdrew his representation, adding that Lawyer Jallow wrote a complaint letter to the Chief Justice dated 11th March 2019 about the matter.
“The learned trial judge has openly in court, consistently manifested bias against me and other accused persons which seem to emanate from a deep-rooted personal dislike for us and the institution we worked for – that is the NIA,” Badjie said.
The security man said the Judge had in many instances refused to follow or apply the law simply because the prosecution has taken a contrary position. He cited two rulings made against him by the Judge dated the 29th July 2019 which he appealed at the Gambia Court of Appeal. He mentioned that the Judge granted a stay of proceedings of the case at the instance of the prosecution which caused the case a year delay. The stay of proceedings was granted on the 25th November 2019.
Badjie said the Court of Appeal set-aside Justice Kumba Sillah’s order for a stay of proceedings on the 8th October 2020 and she was ordered to resume the proceedings. He added that on the 11th March 2021, the Court of Appeal set-aside the two rulings Justice Kumba Sillah made against him.
DG Badjie said the case resumed on the 15th March 2021 before Justice Kumba Silah-Camara for the continuation of the hearing in the case. On that day, Badjie said the Judge was visibly angry and upset over the judgment of the Court of Appeal in respect of this case.
“She spoke at the top of her voice and left us in no doubt that she was angry with us,” Badjie said.
Badjie said the Judge criticized the Judgment of the Court of Appeal at length and described it as bizare. He added that the Judge said ‘if the defence is not in a hurry, she too is not in a hurry.
“The learned trial judge was so angry and emotional over the said decision that her voice was shaking and she almost broke down in tears in open court. She was hostile and angry towards the defence counsels. She [the Judge] warned the Defence Counsels that she did not want to hear any comment from the defence about any delay in the case and she refused to hear any Counsel for the Defence on that issue,” Badjie said.
Badjie said all of them were disturbed and concerned by the Judge’s open display of anger over the Court of Appeal’s decision, emotional involvement in the case and open display of hostility towards the Defence.
He said they instructed their lawyers to convey their concerns to the Chief Justice, but nothing has been done to restore their ‘eroded’ confidence in the ability of the Judge to do justice in the case, accusing her of having demonstrated emotional involvement, anger and bias against them.
On the 29th March 2021, Sheikh Omar Jeng, a former deputy director of operations at the NIA spoke to the Judge on behalf of all the accused persons urging her to recuse herself from the case. The Judge ruled that the application for recusal should be made by their lawyers. The accused persons insisted that she should recuse herself from the case.
Badjie said on the 19th April 2021, the Judge ruled that the case would proceed in the absence of the accused persons after they maintained that they lost confidence in her.
Badjie accused the Judge of encouraging the Defence lawyers to withdraw their representation for them on the basis that they (the accused persons) have been disrespecting her. Badjie pleaded that the Judge’s comment made his lawyer Christopher E. Mene to feel intimidated, harassed and threatened by the Judge’s comment, adding the lawyer is no longer feeling comfortable in representing him in the case due to the attitude of the Judge towards him (Mene).