Lang Tombong & CO Appeal Case: What Were The Lawyers Up To?
Lang Tombong & CO Appeal Case: What Were The Lawyers Up To?
Last week Thursday was not a happy day for many Gambians. For that day the Gambia Court of Appeal, presided over by a panel of three judges; Justice Joseph Wowo (president), Justice J.B Kalaile and Justice Naceesay Sallah-Wadda, dismissed the criminal appeal filed by Lang Tombong Tamba, former chief of Defense Staff (CDS) of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) and six others against the death sentence imposed on them by the High Court on the 15th of July 2010, as lacking merit. Even people who did not bother themselves with the case earlier before felt concerned over the gross injustice that was being dramatized at the court of appeal. Eight men were originally found guilty by Justice Emanuel Amadi on the 15th day of July 2010. And all ten men filed appeals against these sentences in two separate cases at the Gambia Court of Appeal. One of the convicted men who is not Gambian was no where to be seen before the end of the appeal proceedings. This alone should have affected the legal process but the thing went on as if nothing the matter had happened. While the appeal case of the convicted Lebanese man discontinued the one of the seven Gambians continued to the end, leading to its dismissal.
In his judgment, appeal judge, Justice Joseph Wowo, disclosed certain technical failings by the lawyers that are real cause for concern to the general public. According to the Nigerian-born contract-judge the half a dozen learned native Gambian lawyers, all of them eminent, made mistakes that are unbecoming for veteran professional of their standing.
Even at the level of the trial at the Banjul High Court the lawyers should have pointed out that the prosecution’s call for the death sentence was an over reaction in a case in which there was no loss of life. Wowo said: In this instant case, the issue that the lower court cannot competently sentence the appellants to death where the appellants were not involved in violent crime that resulted in the death of any person was never canvassed by their team of lawyers or determined before Justice E. Amadi at the lower court and so the lawyers for the appellants cannot raise it here on appeal. However, an appeal on a point not raised or decided in the trial nisi prius can be raised and argued as a fresh issue on appeal with leave of the appellate court. In the absence of such leave like in this case, any issue or argument based thereon remain incompetent and invalid.
Another grave shortcoming pointed out by the appeal judge was that the defense lawyers did not formulate any issue for determination by the three judges, “instead, they argued along their grounds of appeal.” None of the three Notices of Appeal contain any specific mention of what the convicted seven prisoners wanted from the Appeal want from the honorable court, like for example, reduction of the sentence; order of discharge or acquittal; order of retrial; or order of caution and discharge. “But the notice was blank and mute,” Justice Wowo lamented.
Also, the eminent lawyers filed on behalf of their clients three sets of notices respectively dated 23rd July 2010, 28th July 2010 and the 13th day of January 2011. All the three Notices of Appeal urging the court to overturn the conviction and sentence passed by Justice E. Amadi.
To this Justice Wowo thundered: “It is therefore abundantly clear that the filing of the three Notice of Appeal in the same action and in respect of the same subject matter is an abuse of the process of the court and therefore all the processes filed in respect of this case are incompetent and ought to be struck out.”
And Wowo added: “Ordinarily, I would have ended this matter since I hold that the Notices of Appeal filed are abuse of the process of the court but in the interest of Justice I will proceed to consider the other issues raised in the preliminary objection,”
And the Nigerian-born judge did not have to quarrel only with the manner in which the notices were tendered, but also with the deficiency of the content of the notices themselves. He said that the above order of the court must be specifically sought for by the appellants in their Notice of Appeal but unfortunately and indeed very surprising to the court, despite the fact that the appellants retained the services of six eminent lawyers in this country, their Notices of Appeal lacked any of these very important prayers which are an essential ingredient of any notice of appeal.
With there terrible failures the six native Gambian lawyers unwittingly offered the hatchet-wielding legal mercenary the chance to play being magnanimous. “Despite this fundamental mistake on the part of the appellants, this court will again over look it in the interest of justice especially because all the appellants in the instant case are facing death sentence and this court deems it necessary to do substantial justice to this appeal and go into the main appeal proper,” Justice Wowo went on.
Almost half of the judgment he read in court that day was spent pointing out the errors, inefficiencies and shortcoming of the six defense counsels. We are aware of the ongoing hostilities between Gambian lawmen on the bar and the relatively large contingent of Nigerian lawmen on the bench and we know Wowo’s exercise that day in court was one of castigation. But the errors he pointed out were undisputable and factual. This case involves the lives of seven Gambians framed up, packed and delivered to our deeply flawed justice system for judicial murder. Under our present politically controlled justice system Wowo cannot be expected to accept the appeals, but it is the duty of the lawyers engaged(we hear very expensively) to handle the cases to make maximum use of the courts to free their clients or, in the process, expose the courts for what they really are, kangaroo courts. This was a duty to both the seven clients and to the much suffered Gambian nation. Exposing tyranny and injustice is a duty they have as humans and citizens of the country. But to this they had to get really engaged, at least better engaged than having to lose the cases on petty technical grounds. What were they up to really?