By Yankuba Jallow
Three accused persons in the NIA 9 Case have told a High Court judge, Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara, that they don’t want Legal Aid to represent them anymore in their case.
Baboucar Sallah, Tamba Masireh and Lamin Darboe on Wednesday, 9th June 2021 informed the court that they want to defend themselves and they don’t need the services of the National Agency for Legal Aid (NALA).
Justice Kumba Sillah on the 2nd June 2021 made an order for NALA to represent Baboucar Sallah and Tamba Masireh. Lawyer Ahmed K. Ceesay, the Executive Secretary of the NALA, informed the court that there is a greater need to obtain the consent of the three accused persons before representing them in the case. He submitted that representation has to be based on consent.
Ceesay reminded the court that NALA was previously representing the three accused persons, but withdrew during the course of trial. He said NALA withdrew because the three accused persons were asking them to do something that lacks legal basis.
Ceesay maintained that every person is entitled to Legal Aid under section 24 of the Constitution, but it has to be based on consent. He said because of NALA’s previous encounter with the three accused persons, there was apparent breakdown in their relationship which underpins trust and confidence.
“It entirely depends on our former clients who have the right to retain us or sack us,” Ceesay concluded.
Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara told Baboucar Sallah “do you want to get your own lawyer? I will give you chance to do that. Know that Legal Aid have raised the issue of consent.”
“Our objection has soured our relationship with the Legal Aid. We have asked them to file for the presiding judge to recuse herself from the case, but they refused,” Sallah responded to the Judge.
“Do you still want Legal Aid to represent you?” the Judge asked.
“The reason why I refused to be represented by Legal Aid is because they refused to file what I asked them to file,” Sallah answered.
Baboucar Sallah wanted to emphasize his point, but was cut by the trial Judge who told him “I have heard you”.
The Judge asked both Tamba Masireh and Lamin Darboe whether they want Legal Aid to represent them. They responded in the negative, saying they don’t want NALA to represent them.
“I don’t want Legal Aid to represent me,” Tamba Masireh said.
“I also don’t want Legal Aid to represent me,” Lamin Darboe said.
Lawyer Combeh Gaye for the prosecution said the court has given the accused persons time to get counsels of their choice, if they don’t want Legal Aid to represent. She submitted that since the three have failed to get a lawyer on their own, the court has no other choice than order for Legal Aid to represent them.
“The accused persons cannot use the situation to hold the court at ransom or delay the trial,” Lawyer Gaye concluded.
Lawyer Christopher E. Mene for Yankuba Badjie, the former Director General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), requested to be heard on the matter which was granted by the court.
Lawyer CE Mene cited section 24 sub-section 3 paragraph (d) which provides that “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence-shall be permitted to defend himself or herself before the court in person or, at his or her own expense, by a legal representative of his or her own choice.”
Lawyer Mene placed emphasizes on the word “entitled” adding it represents a right.
“Now, if I have a right and I don’t want to exercise it, can it be imposed on me?” Lawyer Mene quizzed.
He maintained that one can be entitled to something, but the person may not be interested in it.
“It cannot under the face of the law be imposed on the person. There is no compulsion in law. Once there is an imposition, then there is no right. Once the person chooses not to exercise that right then it does not apply anymore,” Lawyer Mene said.
Lawyer Mene submitted that the accused persons are permitted by law to defend themselves, adding both the Constitution and the Legal Aid Act are in conformity.
“The Legal Aid Act and the Constitution both speak the same language,” Mene said.
He further said Legal Aid cannot be imposed on the accused persons without their consent, thus, he urged the court to allow each of the accused persons to defend himself in the interest of justice and fair-hearing.
Lawyer Uzoma Achibue, representing Haruna Suso and Lamin Lang Sanyang, associated himself to the submissions by Lawyer Mene, adding the accused persons can represent themselves.
He urged the court to allow the accused persons to represent themselves considering the repeated adjournments the court took to deal with the issue of legal representation of the accused person.
The case was adjourned to Monday, 14th June 2021 at 1 pm for Legal Aid to reply on points of law and possibly for ruling on the issue of legal representation.
Readers would recall the case has been going on for the past four years. The accused persons are facing prosecution for 25 criminal offences including murder, torture and conspiracy to commit a felony. They have denied liability and the prosecution has called 33 witnesses who all testified in the case before closing their case.
The defence were called upon to open their defence. Since then, only two of the seven accused persons have completed testimony. Tamba Masireh is the one giving evidence. There was a time when the high court stayed the case for several months before the Court of Appeal overturned it. Under the current dispensation, it is the longest-lasting political case and the only political case.