The trial of Trustees of the Synagogue Church of all Nation (SCOAN) and the two engineers involved in the construction of the collapsed six-storey guesthouse that left over 116 dead started on a shaky note yesterday as a prosecution witness scheduled to testify in the matter was disallowed by the trial court.
The SCOAN Trustees, the two engineers, Messrs Oladele Ogundeji and Akinbela Fatiregun and their companies, Hardrock Construction and Engineering Company and Jandy Trust Limited were last month arraigned on 111-count charge for their involvement in the September 12, 2014 collapse of a six-storey guest house belonging to the church, which led to the death of 116 persons.
The 111 count charges preferred against the defendants by the Lagos State Government borders on criminal negligence, manslaughter and failure to obtain building permit.
At the scheduled commencement of trial yesterday, Mrs. Idowu Alakija, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) informed the court that one of the 8 prosecution witnesses, Adebayo Musiliu Olayinka was in court and was ready to testify.
Lead defence counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), however objected to the witness giving evidence, stating that his witness statement was not forwarded to the defence team as stipulated by law.
Fagbemi argued that in criminal proceeding, the proper practice is for the prosecuting team to serve the defence with list of witness and and their statement.
He stated that among the 8 witnesses listed by the state prosecuting counsel, one three had the witness statement front load and served on the defence team.
Fagbemi held that the essence of front loading witness statements is to allow the defence to adequately prepare for the cross examination of the witness.
He insisted that allowing the witness to testify without a witness statement would amount to ambush against the defence.
Fagbemi quoted several sections of the administration of criminal justice law to support his argument and urged the court dismiss the witness until his witness statement is served on the defence.
Counsel to other defendants in the matter, Mrs. Titi Akinlawon (SAN), Chief E.L Akpofure (SAN) and Olalekan Ojo also aligned themselves with the submission of Fagbemi.
Responding to the defence argument, Mrs. Alakija insisted that the fact that the witness statement was not filed and served on the defence does not preclude the witness from testifying in court.
Ruling on the objection, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo upheld the argument of the defence and insisted that the witness statement should be filed and served on them.