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Gambia Bar calls for calm over controversial Judicial Officers Bill

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By Omar Bah

The Gambia Bar Association has issued a statement calling for public calm and positive observation of the provisions in the controversial Judicial Officers Remuneration Bill.

The bill generated negative reactions from the public which believe the goodies envisaged for judicial officers are not reasonable.

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Reacting to the development in a statement shared with The Standard, the Bar association said: “Section 142 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia 1997 on Remuneration of Judges provides that “a judge of the superior court shall be entitled to such salary, allowances, and on retirement such gratuity and pension, as may be prescribed by an act of the National Assembly. It added that the Judicial Officers (Remuneration and Other Entitlements) Bill 2024 soon to be tabled before the National Assembly by the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Justice for the 2nd time, seeks implementation of this provision of the 1997 Constitution for judges, as well as other judicial officers”.

“The tabling of the Bill has generated concerns from the public as to the entitlement of judicial officers to the conditions of service contained in the bill, necessitating the issuing of this statement to explain the rationale for the bill and its purport for better understanding and appreciation of all. While acknowledging citizens’ unfettered right to scrutinize and critique the bill, the GBA encourages careful and objective reading of it.

“This we hope will help bring clarity to the discussion of the bill based on the facts and the context.  It is important to note that the purpose of the bill is to provide a structured legal framework to govern the compensation and benefits of judicial officers. Unlike other arms of Government, the judiciary does not have specific legislation as required by the constitution to govern its remuneration and benefits. It is important to state that the bill does not contain any provision to increase the salaries of Judicial Officers as such the enactment of this bill will not result in the increment of the salary of judicial officers as widely reported in the media,” it added.

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The Bill, the Bar went on, rather provides that the Judicial Service Commission shall whenever government conducts public service pay review, inquire into the adequacy of the emoluments payable to judicial officers and submit report to the President for approval. 

“The Bill stipulates that any increase in salary of judicial officers shall take into consideration amongst other things the financial conditions of the Government.

The Bill spells out the conditions of service of Judicial Officers (including judges of the superior court) whilst in office and after they leave office upon retirement or death. It is worth reminding that judicial officers are public officers and by virtue of their employment, receive remuneration ie salary with allowances, provision of security, transportation and accommodation etc.  “The novelty of the Bill is that it provides pension benefits to Judicial Officials in the Gambia taking into account the peculiarity of their role, and the restrictions Judicial Officers face after retirement. Judges by the ethical rules governing the legal profession, cannot engage in any other type of work during their tenure in office and after retirement on the bench, they cannot return to practice law. The pension benefits proposed in the Bill are in line with pension benefits in the subregion and the commonwealth.

It stated: “The enactment of the bill will enhance the overall efficiency of the judicial delivery and preserve the integrity of judicial officers. The unique responsibility entrusted to them as the final arbiter of disputes in civil and criminal matters, interpreters of the law in constitutional matters, and the diligent exercise of their duties, assures the maintenance of peace, stability and social harmony. It is also a fact that the enactment of the bill will help attract knowledgeable and experienced Gambian legal practitioners with integrity to judicial service. The GBA as part of its mandate promotes and safeguards the independence of the judiciary, which is integral to maintenance of the rule of law and delivery of justice.”

“The GBA is of the view that it is in the public interest to ensure the Gambia’s judiciary is independent, efficient and well-resourced to deliver justice. The enactment of the Bill will reinforce the independence of the Judiciary and help retain and attract best of legal minds to the bench which will positively impact the administration of justice.”

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