By Aisha Tamba
Patrick Gomez, a former magistrate and currently senior state counsel at the Attorney General’s Chambers, yesterday told the truth commission that the judiciary was not independent under former Chief Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle and went on to give examples of the rampant state interference in cases.
Gomez gave an example of a case when he was a magistrate at the Kanifing court when a young woman, Ya Binta Jarju, was shot dead after the taxi she was riding in failed to stop at a check-point in Manjai Kunda, resulting in a car chase by officers.
The witness said the prosecutor, one Mballow conveyed a message to him that he has received a directive that he should pass the sentence on the same day. “I thought about the information, then I said to myself this is the time for me to just make sure that I do the right thing. So I went to the courtroom and still maintained the decision to adjourn the matter to the second day and that was done.”
Gomez further revealed that he knew the decision was risky, considering the situation of the judiciary and he was worried because the state and President Jammeh had interest in the case, hence the message from the prosecutor.
“We were living at a time when the environment at the judiciary was not very friendly and not independent. In fact, its independence was threatened both internally and externally by the executive and administrators, respectively. Time and time again, some of our colleagues would be called to Banjul to answer to the CJ regarding the decisions they have taken and they will be struggling to defend their decisions.
That was just uncalled for and some had to even run out of the jurisdiction because of the interference we have received that time,” the witness said.
He said Chief Justice Fagbenle was furious after he passed acquittal in that case. “I was summoned at the Chief Justice’s office and he was trying to blame me for delivering a very erroneous judgment and asking me how could I acquit the driver in that circumstance when he could have stopped and he refused to stop and therefore he [Fagbenle] had to answer calls from above (President Jammeh) and that I have put him in a very funny situation,” Gomez recalled.
He added that Fagbenle continued to intimidate him, telling him that he does not understand the law on negligence.