By Yankuba Jallow
Police have a double role of law enforcement and prosecutorial mandates. At the Magistrates’ Courts countrywide, the police have sought adjournments in many cases for different reasons.
Some people suffered serious bodily injuries and the alleged suspects would come to court and yet, the police would find comfort in seeking adjournments. The victims would say they had suffered and wanted justice. They said they make extra expenses on fares to go to court to witness the cases and most of the time the cases would be adjourned.
The right to trial within a reasonable time is sacrosanct in Gambia’s legal system.
At the different magistrate’s courts, there are many pending criminal cases. The complainants otherwise the victims, whose cases are pending at the courts complained that the prosecuting officers have not been handling their respective cases diligently. Most of them said different prosecuting officers have handled their cases.
“When a new officer takes over a case, you would suffer additional delay because he will come to court and say he is new in the case and wants more time to study the case. My case has been handled by five (5) different officers and still there is no progress,” a complainant whose case is before a court, said on condition of anonymity for fear of his case being compromised.
The reporter interviewed at least 10 complainants at the magistrate’s courts in the townships and also made telephone calls to some of the victims in the other courts in the regions.
“I lost track of my case. When I asked the police officer about the fate of the case, he would tell me he was going to take a date from the clerk of the court but he did not do that. I am the one who would find out the date from the clerk of the court and inform the officer about the new date. When we go to court, the policeman would not appear. For the last three adjournments we have been coming to court and the case could not proceed because the police officer prosecuting the person, who assaulted me, is always absent. When I call him, he does not pick up my calls and when I see him in the court premises he always tells me he was busy with another case,” a victim of assault said.
One of the most common charges in the courts is obtaining money by false pretense, with most of the victims saying their cases have been ongoing for several years with little or no progress.
Though some victims blame the judicial system, the overwhelming majority of the victims indicted the prosecuting officers for the way they handled their cases.
Two police prosecutors, who agreed to speak to the reporter on condition of anonymity, said they have many cases to handle.
“It is not easy for us. We have so many cases to handle. Imagine one officer having many cases to handle. You do not expect that person to be diligent in all cases. We are doing our best,” a prosecuting officer said.
The officer stated that sometimes they invite witnesses to testify in court, but the witnesses would fail to appear for different excuses.
“Some witnesses would tell you they are sick while others would tell you they do not have fares to come to court. The reasons they give are many and what do you expect us to do in these types of situations,” the Officer said.
Another officer interviewed made similar comments. The police officer added that they sometimes come to court and the clerks would tell them that they do not have interpreters.
“Most of these people do not understand English. Some of them can speak English but they prefer to speak in the local languages, which they have the right to. So, the problems are mainly beyond us. The media should help us so that the courts get adequate interpreters. Without the interpreters, the cases cannot proceed and this is one of the main causes of the delays,” the seasoned prosecutor said.
The two officers said that the Magistrate is sometimes absent, and this delays the trial.
“When the Magistrate does not come, we have to take new dates and most of the time the adjournments take a long time. It is frustrating for the complainants, but they have to understand that we are here for them,” the police prosecutor said.
The complainants want the police to strategise and ensure that they prosecute their alleged assailants or perpetrators to restore their rights.