Human Rights

The effect of an indifferent justice system

By Kemo Cham
The appearance in court of one Sarjo Jarra, AKA Pa Jarra, has sparked suspicious attention in Gambia among people concerned about the country’s justice system. It is not the young man’s crime that is the matter, neither is his appearance in court the issue. Sajor’s case highlights an issue that is hardly discussed either within the country or outside. Accused of rape, and having arrested and remanded at Mile 2 since the year 2000, it would take Sarjo nine solid years to appear before a court, in fact it so happened by mere chance. Sarjo was brought before Justice Moses Richards of the Special Criminal Court of the High Court in Banjul, on Tuesday 19th January 2010. Justice Richards who himself appeared taken aback by the case, engaged the accused in questioning as to how long he had been in custody. According Sarjo, since his detention, only two Lawyer_Lamin_S._CamaraGambiawitnesses were called to testify in his case. Apparently, both the prosecutors and court officials felt there were better cases to deal with rather than Sarjo’s, leaving him languished hopeless in jail.  “I had been arraigned before many judges including Justice M.A. Paul, H Rose, Justice Joseph Wowo at the Basse High Court in the Upper River Region and today Justice Moses Richards,” the accused was quoted as recalling, when further asked by the judge. As a matter of fact, Sarjo could still have been in his prison cell, unheard of, if his name hadn’t surface in a case on the previous Monday, which was been presided over by Justice Richards, who would order the prison officers to bring the accused before him. Justice Richards told the court that he had brought the case to the attention of the Principal Registrar at the country’s High Court, whom he had asked to ascertain whether the particular case file was in the registry. Richards also requested that the High Court Principal Registrar listen carefully to the accused while he explained what exactly had transpired. The judgejustice_moses further ordered that the accused be taken to the Chief Justice for further explanation. The nature of Sarjo’s case has won him some form of sympathy among two of the country’s well known lawyers who seem to dominate the courts these days, lawyers Assan Martin and Lamin S. Camara, both of whom have reportedly volunteered to defend the accused if there is going to be any further prosecution of his case. Assan Martin, a human rights lawyer, well known for his repeated call to attention for remanded prisoners, reportedly informed the court that he went as far as checking up the accused at the remand wing at Mile 2 Prison to search for a first hand information about his case. This development raises concern about how many such people may possibly be languishing in similar situation. It brings to question the effectiveness of prison visits, do they only focus on living condition instead of also look at issues like these. Let’s hope the relevant authorities will learn from this.

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