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Sourahata B. Semega Janneh, Doyen of The Gambia Bar, advocate extraordinary retires at 80 after 52 years of distinguished public and professional legal services

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By FaFa Edrissa M’Bai

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

Please allow me to stand on all protocols already established 

We are all happily gathered here this evening in gratitude and love for the gift of life and professional public and legal services of a colleague and a friend by most standards remarkable, by any standards lovable, and by all human standards, good, very good indeed. I dare say exceptional. We are celebrating with family, friends and colleagues the happy retirement at 80 of Sourahata B. Semega Janneh, Doyen of The Gambia Bar, and Advocate extraordinary after half a century and more of unblemished and distinguished professional public and legal services both in this country, other parts of Africa and the Commonwealth.

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Please allow me, first of all, to briefly recall a few of the pertinent milestones in the professional legal and public life of our distinguished colleague and friend on this happy and historic occasion.

Sourahata B. Semega Janneh was born in Banjul on 6th November, 1942. He attended Methodist Boys High School and after obtaining his School Certificate proceeded to England in 1961 to study Law. He graduated with the Degree of Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from the University of Hall, England. He is a member of The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, London, and was called to the Bar of England and Wales as Barrister-at-Law in 1970.He returned home and enrolled with The Gambia Bar as Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of The Gambia the same year.

To be Called to the Bar of England and Wales as Barrister-at-Law one must, since time immemorial, be a member of one of the four Inns of Court in London. These are Gray’s Inn, The Middle Temple, The Inner Temple, and Lincoln’s Inn. To make it short there is a joke about the Inns of Court that “Gray’s is for the scholar, Inner for the rich, Middle for the poor, and Lincoln’s for everything else”. S. B. Semega Janneh is of Gray’s Inn and has all the scholarly graces of his Inn.

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S. B. Semega Janneh’s brilliant and successful carrier commenced when he worked as Executive Officer in the Estate Duty Office in London. In The Gambia he was the first Master and Registrar of the Supreme Court in the early seventies. In 1974, he voluntarily left Government service to become a Private Legal Practitioner, which he remained until his retirement on 31st December, 2022.

S. B. Semega Janneh was a founding member of the Law Reform Commission of The Gambia, the Medical and Dental Council of The Gambia and The Gambia General Legal Council. He is a past President of The Gambia Bar Association serving from 1993 – 1998. S. B. Semega Jannehwas also a founder member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in which he served for eight years from 1987. He served as Vice Chairman of that apex continental Commission for 18 months. S. B. Semega Jannehserved for many years as a member of the Rules Committee of the Supreme Court and of The Gambia Court of Appeal. In 2005, he was appointed Chairman of the Education Committee of The Gambia General Legal Councillooking into the introduction of a Law School in The Gambia. The Committee’s Report was duly submitted.

On two occasions, S. B. Semega Janneh joined Commonwealth teams to observe elections in Namibia in 1989 and Malaysia in 1991. S. B. Semega Janneh was a member of The Gambia Chapter of the African Society of International and Comparative Law which published a periodical containing advanced legal articles.

S. B. Semega Janneh was Chairman of Kombo Beach Hotel Limited for twenty years. He has been a board member of many other companies, notably Sankung Sillah and Sons Ltd. and also of the defunct Panaf Airways.

As a private Legal Practitioner, S. B. Semega Janneh has represented Banks, Insurance Companies, Statutory Corporations and Private Commercial Companies both local and foreign as well as numerous individuals, both in civil and criminal matters.

In 1994, in the aftermath of the Army takeover of the nation, S. B. Semega Janneh was appointed a member of the National Consultative Committee tasked with finding out the wishes of the people in relation to the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC).

It was S. B. Semega Janneh, the only lawyer in the Committee, who drafted, under huge time constraints, the Conclusions and Recommendations of the Committee’s Report.

S. B. Semega Janneh has written many articles on Legal and Human Rights matters and issues e.g. “The Ratio in Saidy Vs Saidy, is it worthy of Retention;” “Banjul Properties and the Declaratory Judgment,” Code of Conduct for Legal practitioners in The Gambia; “Why An International Bill of Rights;” “The Next Constitution: Issues for Debate:” “An Introduction to Some Aspects of Gambian Land Law;” and “Proof in Land Cases”.

On 10th August 2017 S. B. Semega Janneh was appointed Chairman of the three person Commission of Inquiry into the Financial Dealings of ex-President Yaya Jammeh, his Close Associates and Family members. This Commission is commonly called “Janneh Commission”.

S. B. Semega Janneh is happily married with five sons and two daughters who are all here with us and infact hosting this grand four course Retirement Gala Dinner for their father. He has been the Doyen of The Gambia Bar since the year 2005. On 24th November, 2018 at our Grand Ball, The Gambia Bar Association awarded him an award for outstanding contribution to the Bar. S. B. Semega Janneh’s qualities of excellence both in public and private life have only been surpassed by the great credit and distinction he has brought not only to The Gambia Bar and the entire legal profession but also to Africa and the Commonwealth.

A few years ago when I had the pleasure of giving reference to one of the Janneh girls, Halima Semega Janneh, in support of her application for enrollment with The Gambia Bar as Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of The Gambia, I was moved to point out as follows. “It is obvious to us all, from very early on, that Halima has all the perquisites of the advocate. She likes books. She has a natural fluency of speech. She is able to think clearly and to the point. She has a pleasant and affable personality which inspires trust and confidence and she is professional and upright in her dealings. Halima has a fascination for the spoken word, the formulated idea, the expressed thought, the law and the study of it, and the system of logic manifest in its practice. The law is her vocation. The law is in her blood.

I am proud to say that Halima comes from a most distinguished family of scholars and professionals including a spectacular pedigree of great advocates and jurists. Her illustrious father, His Lordship The Honourable Justice G.B. Semega Janneh is a Senior Judge of the Supreme Court of The Gambia of many years standing. It is therefore most gratifying that Halima, like her cousin, Ebironke Semega Janneh and sister, Fatima Makieu Semega Janneh before her, is following the giant footsteps of their distinguished father and Senior Uncle, S.B. Semega Janneh, Doyen of The Gambia Bar, and the rich and legendary tradition of the family”.

After my son, Malick, was Called to the Bar, I sat him down to advise him about the Uncles and Aunts ofThe Gambia Bar he will be facing in due course: matters that he will not find in the Orders and Rules of the Court norin any of the books on advocacy. I advised Malick to pay great attention with honour and respect to these Uncles and Aunties of the law. These include S.B. Semega Janneh, A.N.M Ousainu Darboe, A.A.B. Gaye, Edward Gomez, Musa N. Bittaye, Ida D. Drameh, Amie Bensouda, Janet Salla Njie, Bola Carol, and Fola Allen.

I pointed out to him that if he ever meets Aunty Fola on the court stairs or corridors or in any of the Court rooms complaining that the weather in England yesterday or the day before was terrible, she is not well prepared and will be applying for the adjournment of her cases.

I also said to him that it was Uncle Bola’s grandfather, Wilfred D. Carol, maybe our first Oxford educated Inner Temple trained elite lawyer, who drafted the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code in 1932. Uncle Bola is therefore long steeped in the law and is most eloquent in English, French and even Latin. But if you hear him stammering as if his words are reluctant to come out you can come to your own conclusion that he is not well prepared.

“If you hear Miss Ida D. Drameh protesting against being called “Ida” and insisting that she be addressed “Miss Drameh”, she is ready and well prepared for a fight.

If you observe Aunty Janet addressing the court with folded hands on her back and constantly rubbing her wedding ring with her right fingers, feel sorry for the opposing Counsel, male or female.

If you see and behold Uncle Musa Bittaye standing erect and speaking in a beautiful resonant voice with a short pause between his words there will be advocacy at its best.

Aunty Amie Bensouda always comes to Court well-dressed invariably with an appropriate maxy skirt to march and with all smiles. Wait, for there will be, fireworks to follow.

Uncle Edward Gomez is our Edward Mortimer or ‘runpole’ of the Inns of Court, the legendary English Barrister and voice of consent in advocacy.

Uncle Antouman Gaye’s cross-examination is a demolition exercise. A witness hardly survives his first three questions. If he does, wait for the last three after which the unfortunate witness leaves the witness stand completely devastated.

Malick, as a member of the Inner Temple, you must have met or seen Lord Diplock, that great English Judge who was small in stature. Uncle Ousainou Darboe is like Lord Diplock in stature. And like Lord Diplock, he is giant in the law. It is great joy to behold his dignity in Court, and a greater joy to hear him applying the law to the evidence like the tapestry of a renowned artist. In the process he may appear to be jumping up as if to proclaim “nobody is taller than me here”. He is right, nobody is taller than him in the law.

You will come to observe that Uncle S.B. Semega Janneh is always in Court on time and prefers to sit at the back. If you see him sniffing or drawing the picture of a vulture on the left side of his copy of the Cause List, his devastation will be unstoppable. But if you see him drawing the picture of a pigeon he will be charitable and may not oppose any application for adjournment.

If you are lucky enough, you may find these three… S.B. Semega Janneh, O.N.M Ousainou Darboe, and A.A.B Gaye sitting at the back of the Court, most likely the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court. Even if you have no matter before the Court, do not leave, stay put and watch the mobile law library of The Gambia Bar.

The advocate has since the days of the Greek and Roman democracies been an essential and popular figure in all civilized society. “There he goes” said the plebs, impressed and admiring, as Hortensius or Cicero swept into the forum, and crowds whispered and made way, and sometimes roared with vehement pleasure. And like Hortensius or Cicero, Sourahata B. Semega Janneh has remained a remarkable and unmistakable presence in the Law, often seen hurrying or coming out of our Courts after yet another of his great triumphs. Our Law Reports bear eloquent testimony to his forensic erudition day by day, and year after year for half a century and more.

S.B. Semega Janneh stands our as one of the most outstanding and leading advocates of human rights and the rule of law in our times; a giant among men and in heart and in stature. The story of his battle fields, often the story of victory, sometimes of defeat, but always of a very brave soldier whose bright sword has very eagerly been sought to the last, is yet to be written.

We Lawyers will long remember the erect handsome figure as he rose to cross examine, or to address the Court, the wig rather high on the forehead, the jaw a little thrust forward, the gown sliding down slowly from the back of the left shoulder, the right forefinger poised in the air, the relentless questions, the striking phrase, the clear sharp voice, the effortless eloquence.

We will long remember our good friend and colleague; his courage, his candor, his charm, his wit, his friendship; above all his relentless pursuit of justice and the belief that the strong should be just, the weak secure, and the peace preserved. S.B. Semega Janneh is large: he contains multitudes.

S. B. Semega Janneh is a rare spirit and one I am proud to have known and associated with for more than four decades. He is everything the good advocate should be – alert, courteous, of impressive bearing, and possessed of a most striking eloquence, a friend of the oppressed; for whom justice all places a temple; all seasons summer; happiness the only good; reason the only torch; humanity the only religion; and love the only priest.

We shall long remember his passion for justice, his independence and quality of thought, his liberal mind, his geniality, his unfailing courtesy to the Bench, to his colleagues at the Bar, and to litigants in person. Above all we shall miss him and his gift of friendship, his sturdy independence and unflagging enthusiasm.

And like Edward Majoribank on the life of Sir Edward Marshall Hall, one of the greatest English advocates of all times, we may be allowed to say about our friend and colleague, Sourahata B. Semega Janneh…

Fold the worn silk: and let the wig be laid

Into its battered box: their use is done

For ever: now the final cause is won.

The long term closes: the final speech is made.

No prisoner at the Bar may seek his aid:

No Judge will hear him now: beneath his flail

No witness now shall writhe – no felon quail.

No Jury by his eloquence be swayed

The wise head on fine shoulders set.

The erect figure, the heroic frame

Are seen no more: but some will not forget

And, till they die, must reverence the name

Of him, who, as they struggle in the net.

Rose in his strength, and to their rescue came

And this, for half a century and more

Sourahata B. Semega Janneh

Rest is yours; Gratitude is yours

And we are all very proud of you.

The End

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