To breathe a new life in the stalled national constitution-making process, rigidity and inflexibility must give way to compromises, Chief Justice Hassan Jallow said in a statement at a ceremony introducing newly appointed judges and the judicial secretary at his office earlier this week.
He said the judiciary has been “very attentive” to the efforts that have been ongoing for several months to prepare a new constitution for the Gambia as a framework for good governance for this country.
He said they had actively participated in the process by preparing and submitting memoranda to the Constitutional Review Commission and holding consultation with them on matters of interest to the judiciary.
He reminded that the constitution is not only the source of the establishment and mandates the jurisdictions of the judicature; it is also the source of authority of all other laws which are applied by the courts. Therefore, he said, the judiciary cannot be indifferent to the developments concerning the proposed new constitution.
He commented: “We are aware of where those efforts stand at the moment. But we must not give up. Constitution making is not an easy process but we have our national experience to go by. This is the fourth time that this country is embarking on such a process. Our first constitution of 1965 was the product of negotiations for independence for this country. It was followed by the 1970 Republican Constitution a purely local initiative, which survived and provided a good framework for governance in this country until it was overthrown in a military coup in 1994.
“Since then the country has been governed by the 1997 Constitution which remains our governance framework. Constitution making is a challenging process. It requires patience, it requires compromises and it requires accommodation. We must not relent in our efforts to ensure that we come up with a new constitutional framework. We must pick up again from where we are and try and move forward in order to achieve the agreed goal. We all agreed that we do need such a new constitutional framework. What is required now is for all engaged in the process to be ready to make compromises, to accommodate views and concerns of others and to exercise due patience in the process.”
The respected legal luminary said we should note that the 1970 Constitution was rejected at the first referendum and that it was “patience, perseverance and dialogue” which led to its adoption at a second referendum some years later and to its survival for almost a quarter century. “Those qualities,” he said, “are now very much deemed to help us unlock the impasse we now face. We must each be prepared to abandon possibly very strongly held views and make compromises that will accommodate others, that will enable us to produce a document which we can all proudly describe as our national constitution. Inflexibility will not help us attain the goal for which we all strive. We must display some flexibility and be able to give and take for the common good. I believe this is still possible. And we should move forward together on this great democratic enterprise. I thank you for your attention,” the chief justice concluded.