Did President Barrow Commit ‘Contempt Of Court’?

EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, THE GAMBIA: President Adama Barrow’s reference to the alleged ‘arson’ attack on the house of the Anti-Crime Unit commander of the Gambia Police Force has provoked legal arguments on whether he had committed contempt of court.

In a one-sided narrative, the president in his State of the Nation Address on Thursday made reference to different incidents of attacks on public and private places which put blame on protesters including the group that claimed police brutality in the death of a Serrekunda market vendor in July.

“Recently, some people have been taking the law into their own hands to commit violent acts of destruction and attacks on property and individuals”, he said.

“Aside from the Faraba Banta disorder, violent incidents, including arson and murder, have been recorded in Kombo Berending, Gunjur, Koina, Garawol and, most recently, in the Kanifing Municipality.”

The Gambian president preached that “personal attacks on government officials fighting crime in the country, such as the Assistant Police Commissioner and Head of the Police Anti-Crime, and arson attacks on his family home, the Bakoteh Police Station and within the Serekunda market area are not part of our values.”

The case in his reference, is before a high court in Banjul in which seven youth are facing charges of arson, rioting and unlawful assembly. It began in a lower court in Kanifing with thirty-seven accused persons, but thirty of them have since been released and the seven currently on bail.

Contempt of court

In the legal context, contempt of court is a criminal charge which is employed to punish behaviour that interferes with the proceedings or orders of a court.

A bench warrant could be issued by a judge for the arrest of a person for violating court rules and is in contempt of court. This crime is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both.

A senior lawyer at the Ministry of Justice who chose to withhold his name, told Eye Africa that the President’s statement can impinge on the independence of Judiciary in the sense that his pronouncement sends a message of how strongly he feels about the issue whilst the matter is still under the court’s jurisdiction.

“So yes, Barrow got it wrong and but, in my view, he did not break the Laws of the law but offended principles that underpin the separation of power and the rule of law”, he stated.

It is the believe of the lawyer that “the AG should [have] advise[d] him accordingly.”

He added that “in as much it is not right or legitimate for anyone to take the laws into their hands, the matter is being handled by the courts and the accused persons should be presumed innocent until found guilty.”

Another commentator refers to the president’s reference of the case as ‘problematic’. “It may be interference on the independence of the judiciary”, it states, adding this is because the president enjoys constitutional immunity as long as he is in power.

With exception of the Faraba Banta incident, this was first time for Mr Barrow to make public statement on either of the events all of which almost put the country in flames. The Faraba Banta incident led to shooting to death of three environmental activists allegedly by the personnel of the Police Intervention Unit.

Noticeably, his speech did not touch on the alleged killing of a university student by drug enforcement officers, death of Serrekunda Market vendor and violent reaction of police during the aftermath protests within the Greater Banjul Area in July.

In the view of the president, the same citizens who are behind the country’s “Never Again” campaign, are “engaged in various forms of violence against their fellow citizens, State institutions and officials.”

He however called on them to guard the peace and stability which he said is the bedrock of development and progress.

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