By Aisha Tamba
Continuing his testimony at the TRRC, the president of the Bar Association Salieu Taal has said the Jammeh era practice of going to State House to lobby to be judges is still common among legal practitioners even under this new government.
“There were people who were lobbying to be judges through the State House and they are still serving as judges. I would not mention names because I don’t think it would do anyone good at this point but some of them are sitting judges,” Taal said.
He said the danger of individuals lobbying to be judges is that it can affect the independence of the judiciary, as it was the case under Jammeh when such type of judges acted as his enablers. “An independent judiciary plays an important role in ensuring that we have checks and balances between the arms of government, because it is only the judiciary that can tell anyone, being the president, the parliament what is the law, what is not the law and what is constitutional or not. That kind of responsibility requires total independence. If we had an independent judiciary, it would have made it harder for the Jammeh dictatorship to last as long as it did and its impact on us would have been limited,” he added.
He said during the political impasse when Jammeh refused to accept the election results, there was a letter written to the Bar to appoint a new president. He produced a photo of the meeting where dozens of lawyers including state lawyers came together to issue “a very strongly-worded statement” condemning Jammeh’s action as treasonable. “The brave lawyers and judges who lived abroad turned up and took a risk to show solidarity and told Jammeh if he stayed one day after the 19th he will be committing treason. I think that was what emboldened Gambians as they finally saw that their lawyers are bold enough to take the step and decided that if lawyers are in front of us, we will be behind them and them came avalanche of condemnations and for the first time, Jammeh realised that Gambians are standing up to him,” the witness told the TRRC.
He added that that statement by the Bar united the whole of Gambia in fighting for their freedom against Jammeh.
He said the Bar proceeded to communicate to the Nigerian executive and media to make sure that Jammeh does not bring more judges from Nigeria. Taal became a popular face of defiance during the impasse when he founded activist group #GambiaHasDecided.