From 37 to 7 souls unlawfully jailed: Why we need to check police and the court

/, Opinion/From 37 to 7 souls unlawfully jailed: Why we need to check police and the court

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian human rights activist

In our Republic the power to enforce the law falls on the justice delivery system first and foremost which comprises the police and the courts primarily. It is the police that has the authority to arrest anyone provided there was a crime committed or about to be or suspected to have been committed.  The police have the same authority to therefore detain and then impose charges on suspects for prosecution before the courts. It is the courts that have the sole authority to therefore declare the innocence or guilt of suspects who stand before it. Therefore, the police and the Court are indeed very powerful institutions.

The decisions that the Police and the Court make can have lasting impact on the life and future of persons with whom they come into contact. By arresting, detaining and prosecuting a person means a heavy burden is put on the liberty and reputation of that person. Similarly, by sentencing a person to jail time does not only significantly limit one’s liberty and dampen dreams but could as well irreparably injure one’s reputation and potentially end the life of that person.

In light of the above the Police and the Court therefore cannot afford to make mistakes or abuse their power for doing so means irreparable damage to the life of a human being. We have seen, for example in places like the US where people are jailed for decades and even sentenced to death only to discover years later that in fact, such persons never committed the crime for which they were jailed in the first place. A very sad episode is where you find many people who were jailed when they were young only to be released in their old age because they were wrongly arrested and tried and then unjustly sentenced. It is for this reason that we must closely check the Police and the Court as they perform their functions.

Indeed, the Police and the Court are hugely important and necessary institutions without which we cannot call a society a civilized society. This is because in the absence of the Police and the Court to dispense justice justly it means therefore citizens would have no choice but to take the law into their own hands in order to solve their grievances. But with the Police and the Courts present we are all restrained knowing full well that these institutions will protect us or repair the damage we have suffered due to a violation of our rights or property in any form. Hence the Police and Courts are utterly important, necessary and they deserve our full respect and support.

That notwithstanding, the Police and the Courts are also known to have been one of the foremost instruments that have been used to harm citizens. For example, in the US the Police and the Courts have been used to criminalise Black People and then sentence them to jail time or death because of racism. In fact, in the US the police can literally shoot you to death if they fell like it and especially if you are Black and then claim self-defence! Similarly, we had seen during the Yaya Jammeh Tyranny how citizens were unlawfully arrested and then unjustly tried and sentenced to several years or death. This was why the terminology ‘Mercenary Judges’ emerged as Jammeh hired and paid foreign and local judges to do his bidding to silence anyone he did not like.

The current case of 37 citizens and non-citizens clearly manifests once again the impact of the decisions and actions of the Police and the Courts. The Gambia Police Force first arrested these people in questionable circumstances and then imposed life-impacting charges on them. Knowing full well that a Magistrates Court cannot decide charges that are considered capital offences still the Police went ahead to put them before the magistrate, unjustly and unlawfully. The Police already knew that a single decision of theirs could potentially deprive a human being of his liberty, reputation and wellbeing.

On its part the Magistrates Court also knew that the charge of arson is not an offense it has the mandate to address. Yet the Magistrate ignored the law but went ahead to decide the matter by sending 37 souls to prison on remand. For that matter it is now several weeks that these people are languishing in jail when there is no reason for them to be there other than a single, albeit unlawful decision by a magistrate.

Today the justice delivery system decided to withdraw the case against 30 of these detained young people because of the huge outcry against their arbitrary action. Why did they withdraw the case if indeed the Police were sure that indeed these young people committed the crimes of which they accused them? The Attorney General as the chief law enforcement officer in the Republic knows full well that indeed there is no case against these people. But by sheer abuse of power they deliberately arrested these people only to subject them to untold suffering. This is unacceptable.

Therefore, I wish to put it to law enforcement and judicial officers to always ensure that they are fully aware of the law and understand the law as their own name. They must ensure that in every decision or action they wish to take they must meticulously review all factors and sides just to ensure that their decision will be squarely lawful, right and just. They must bear in mind that any single mistake they make in their decision, advertently or inadvertently has the potential to destroy a life. Any law enforcement or judicial officer with conscience and committed to the cause of justice should completely avoid making another human being to suffer just because of your lack of due diligence or blatant abuse of power.

For that matter, ultimately the efficiency and accountability of our law enforcement and justice delivery officers and institutions rest with the citizens when they stand up to ensure adherence to the rule of law. We must check the Police and the Courts at all times with deep interest and concern just to ensure that they are acting within the law and the powers stipulated therein. This is for our own interest as well as the benefit of these police and court officers and society as a whole.

We cannot afford to have a justice delivery system in which the rights and dignity of citizens will be at the mercy of a single person just because he or she is a police officer or a magistrate or judge. We are a Republic in which the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people. Law enforcement and judicial offices like all other public servants derive their legitimacy and authority from the people and therefore perform their functions in our name and for our welfare.

For that matter we cannot and must not accept to have public servants such as police officers and magistrates and judges transform our authority given to them to harm us simply because of their failure to apply the rule of law or abuse their powers. That is a contradiction in terms that must not exist in a Republic. Therefore, let us insist that the Police and the Court apply the rule of law in full at all times knowing full well it is only when the rule of law is followed and adhered to will we have our rights fully respected and protected. Otherwise our rights hence our sovereignty don’t mean nada!

For the Gambia Our Homeland

 

2019-09-11T16:20:20+00:00

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