The Gambia Bar Association has among its primary aims and objectives the following key purposes:
➢ To maintain the standards, integrity, honour and independence of the Bar, to promote, preserve and improve the services and functions of the Bar, and to represent and act for the Bar generally as well as in matters affecting the administration of justice;
➢ To defend and uphold freedom, justice and the rule of law in The Gambia;
➢ To maintain and defend the honour, independence and integrity of the legal profession;
➢ To maintain and defend the independence of the judiciary.
Consequently the members of the Bar have restated their unwavering commitment to uphold these principles and to live up to aspirations of the Gambian people and the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia.
It is in this spirit that the Gambia Bar Association issued a Petition to the Honourable Chief Justice and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice on the 28th of January 2017 when it discovered that the former Chief Justice Fagbenle had convened a meeting of the Judicial Services Commission for the purpose of renewing the contracts of 10 judges that were appointed by President Yahya Jammeh.
This petition was issued before the Honourable Minister of Justice, Abubakar M.Tambadou and Honourable Chief Justice, Hassan B. Jallow assumed office. The petition is yet to be responded to.
It must be stated unequivocally that the Gambia Bar Association welcomes all Legal Practitioners from all over the world. Indeed the Bar has amongst its members nationals from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, United Kingdom and other nations.
In particular the Bar and the Gambian Legal system are heavily indebted to and grateful for the assistance provided by the sister Republic of Nigeria, Ghana and the Commonwealth of Nations through technical assistance in the Judiciary and the Ministry of Justice. Through this assistance, nationals from all over Africa, Europe and Asia have enriched the legal sector of The Gambia.
The Bar eagerly looks forward to new technical assistance in these areas where local capacity is lacking.
The steps taken by the Bar are solely as a result to its adherence to its stated objectives and not to primitive prejudices such as xenophobia that are alien to our profession and our country.
In its petition The Gambia Bar Association stated in no uncertain terms that in this new era of freedom and democracy in The Gambia, the judiciary must critically study the status quo with genuine introspection and good faith before deciding on the way forward in the best interest of The Gambia.
Specifically, the unjust and reprehensible practices in the Jammeh regime which the GBA petitioned against were:
1. Appointment of Judges on limited term limit contracts and thereby making them beholden to the contracting party (their employer).
2. The Judicial Services Commission giving itself the power to appoint or renew the contract of a Judges. The appointment of Judges on private contracts (outside the Technical Assistance Bilateral Treaty) without transparency and public scrutiny. The process of selection and screening of the appointees was frought with anomalies, opaque and not in the best interest of the Administration of Justice system. In particular:
i) None of the said Judges were previous holders of Judicial office. Their lack of experience and competence was apparent and abundantly displayed in varieties of recorded proceedings and judgments.
ii) There was no evidence of their formal training to hold the office of a Judge and to the best of our knowledge information and belief, most of the said appointees were not actively engaged in litigation practice prior to their appointment.
iii) The GBA and the public were not given an opportunity to screen or provide comment on the qualifications of the appointees.
iv) To the best of our knowledge, information and belief, the method of identification and selection of these candidates were entirely subjective and in the sole discretion of the erstwhile Attorney General and Chief Justice. Both of these persons, in our mind did not, at the time, hold the appropriate professional independence and good faith in the exercise of their duties.
3. That the composition of the JSC from 2009 to date has not been in line with the Constitution. Former President Jammeh had handpicked one lawyer to sit on the Judicial Services Commission thereby depriving the GBA oversight of its activities.
In its petition the Gambia Bar Association appealed to the incoming Chief Justice and Minister of Justice to uphold the Constitution by, as a start, ensuring that a Legal Practitioner, appointed by the Attorney General in consultation with the Gambia Bar Association was sitting in the Judicial Services Commission.
It is the opinion of the Gambia Bar Association that the operations and procedure of the JSC, particularly in connection to appointment and termination of Judges was illegal and abhorrent.
The Gambia Bar Association sincerely believes that in an era of freedom and rule of law the appointment of Judges should be a transparent process, open to the public for scrutiny of the appointees and for their antecedents and qualifications to be evaluated.
It is only through such a process of stakeholder consultation that the judiciary can be rebuilt.
It was therefore with shock and dismay that the Gambia Bar Association discovered that despite its petition, the Judicial Services Commission convened to sit without representation from the Gambia Bar Association and renew the contracts of four judges.
The GBA takes the view that the Judicial Services Commission acted without following due process in that:
➢ That the JSC has no power to appoint or renew the contract of a Judge. Only His Excellency, President Adama Barrow may appoint a Judge of the High Court following the recommendation of the JSC;
➢ That the process of selection and screening of Judicial appointees is considered by the Bar to be frought with anomalies, opaque and not in the best interest of the administration of Justice;
➢ The contracts of the said judges had expired in December 2016. All of them had left the jurisdiction upon entry into the new year. The circumstances surrounding their re-entry remain a mystery.
➢ That the JSC convened itself in contravention to sections 145 and 138 of the Constitution and purported to “appoint” the afore-named Judges.
The GBA has requested copies of the minutes of the JSC meeting and none were provided
The Executive Committee of the GBA thus called an Emergency meeting of its members. At the Emergency General Meeting of members of the Gambia Bar Association held on the 27th March 2017 at Court Room No. 1 of the High Court, it was resolved following extensive deliberations by members of the Gambia Bar Association that:
1. The recent appointment of four High Court Judges namely:
1. Justice Edward Ogar,
2. Justice Mathias Olesugun Agboola,
3. Justice Simeon Abi,
4. Justice Matins U. Okoi
is not in line with the constitution of the Republic of the Gambia 1997.
2. The Bar Association shall proceed to file an action to challenge the said appointments, to seek an order quashing same and to seek the necessary prohibitive relief.
3. The members of the Gambia Bar Association shall commence a boycott of the courts presided over by the said Judges until further Notice.
4. Senior members of the Gambia Bar Association, in collaboration with the Executive shall engage the Judicial Services Commission and the Executive of the Government through the Minister of Justice to continue the necessary dialogue and consultation for the development and the protection of the administration of justice system.
In line with the above resolutions, the Gambia Bar Association through its Trustees has on the 28th day of March 2017 filed court action against the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and the Attorney General seeking for the necessary orders from the High Court including the suspension of the letters of appointments of the said Judges pending the hearing of the application before the court.
The Gambia Bar Association is saddened by the fact that its hopes and aspirations that a transparent mechanism shall be put in place for the appointment of qualified eminent, independent Jurists that the Gambian people have yearned for so long have not been respected.
The GBA believes that true justice and independence of the judiciary should not be sacrificed for speedy and superficial appearance of a functioning judiciary.
The Bar assures the general public of its renewed stance to ensure that the Rule of Law and due process is honoured in The Gambia henceforth.
The unavoidable delay of cases pending at the High Court due to its decision to boycott the aforesaid courts is deeply regretted. We appeal for the understanding of the public and the attendant delay this may cause to cases. We believe these actions are in the interest of the public
DATED THIS DAY OF 2017