Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice has said the Justice Ministry was not consulted by the Ministry of Interior or the Police before any action was taken in the case of the nine former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) officers currently facing murder charge.
Abubakar Tambedou described it as very unfortunate in view of the fact that the Justice Ministry was going to be ultimately responsible for the case when it is presented before the courts. He expressed hope appropriate lessons will be drawn from this experience and adopt a more inclusive, consultative and coordinated approach in the future.
Minister Tambedou was speaking on Thursday during a Press Conference at his Ministry, to provide information about some of the activities of the Ministry of Justice over the past few weeks.
The NIA 9 are facing charge of killing late Solo Sandeng in April 2016 following his arrest for merely and peacefully protesting in demand for electoral reforms.
The NIA was the most feared agency in the country under the former dictator Yahya Jammeh. They enabled former President Jammeh in almost all the crimes committed against Gambians and non-Gambians such as arbitrary arrest, detention without trial, tortures, disappearances and even killings.
Minister Tambedou said the Ministry takes very seriously the case of the unfortunate death in custody of Solo Sandeng and all other similar unfortunate incidents over the past 22 years of the former government and that is why they must adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing these justice related challenges rather than approaching it piecemeal.
He said the Ministry of Justice has requested the Police to conduct a more thorough investigation into the case of the NIA 9.
“I wish to state for the records, that this is no way a reflection of the work of the Police. They too have come under a lot of pressure to conduct a complex investigation within a very short time. This is why we must always endeavor to investigate before arrest rather than arrest and then investigate” he said.
According to Tambedou, criminal investigations must never be rushed, saying they careful planning and strategizing and will often involve specialized investigation techniques which may not be readily available in this country. Otherwise, he said, there is a real risk of missing or losing crucial evidence which can lead to the collapse of an entire case at trial. This he said, is why it is preferable that criminal investigations and evidence collection be guided by the Justice Ministry right from the start.
“We must recognize that we are now operating under a new different judicial climate and that the judiciary will be expected to assert their judicial independence and will vigorously scrutinize every piece of evidence presented by the prosecution as required in any normal criminal proceedings. That is why we must also adhere to due process. Anyone familiar with serious criminal prosecutions will understand and appreciate the challenge of providing beyond reasonable doubt every element of a crime charged and the modes of liability alleged. Hence the importance of thinking through certain matters and taking great care before acting” he noted.
Justice Minister Tambedou made it clear that the priority at this moment is to rebuild the justice system of the country and strengthen capacity of the Ministry of Justice in this process.
“We must have the necessary legal processes and mechanisms in place to ensure not only prosecutions in the short term but also safeguarding the fair trial rights of the accused so that you the Gambian people and generations of Gambians yet unborn can live in this country safe in the knowledge that our criminal justice system will dispense justice in a fair, impartial and dispassionate manner. We must focus on building a strong, robust and independent justice system to match the aspirations of the people of this country so that no one in this country will ever be dragged before our courts for a crime that they did not commit. That is the primary objective of our reform agenda” he said.
The Ministry he said must therefore be in state of full preparedness to handle the demands of the criminal justice system in all respects saying they don’t need to be put in the position with the case of the NIA 9.