Lawyer questions Janneh Commission chairman’s right of audience in court

Monday, July 01, 2019

Lawyer G. Bah in a preliminary objection challenged the qualification of S.B. Semega Janneh, chairman of the Commission of Inquiry that investigates financial dealings of Ex-President Yahya Jammeh and his close associates, saying that Janneh is a public officer and is disqualified to practice as a private legal practitioner by virtue of presently holding a public office.

Lawyer G. Bah submitted that S.B. Semega Janneh being the chairman, Commission of Inquiry into Ex-President (The Janneh Commission) which was established by legal notice No:15 of 2017 (The Gambia Gazette no:17 of 13th July, 2017) makes him a public officer and as such disqualified to practice law within the time material.

Lawyer G. Bah cited and relied on the case of Alhagie Wada NAS Vs Senator Adesanya (2003) 2 NWLR pt (803) 97 and FMBN Vs Olloh (2002) 9 NWLR (pt73) 475.

Lawyer G. Bah particularly relied on FMBN Vs OLLOH wherein the Supreme Court of Nigeria made a pronouncement with respect to Section 277 (1) of the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria regarding the definition of public servant.

Lawyer G. Bah submitted that Section 277 (1) is similar to Section 166(3) of the Constitution of The Gambia under which the The Janneh Commission was set up.

In response, Lawyer S.B. Semega Janneh in his brief adopted before the court submitted that the preliminary objection did not comply with the requirements enunciated in the case of The State (No 1) Vs Darboe (No1) published in The Gambia Report (1997-2001) GR 773.

Lawyer Janneh submitted that the position he now occupies as chairman of the Commission of Inquiry does not take away his right of audience in the court of The Gambia.

He referred the court to Section 23 of the Legal Practitioners Act 2016, which set out those entitled to practice as legal practitioners in The Gambia.

Lawyer Semega Janneh argued that lawyer G. Bah did not cite any Gambian law to support its argument but cited and relied on Nigerian authorities which are materially and factually different from the instant application.

The presiding judge of the High Court in Brikama, Justice U.A. Musale in his ruling disclosed that Lawyer G. Bah ought to have shown that the office Semega S.B. Janneh occupies now is a creation of law and that the position held by lawyer Janneh must also be permanent in nature.

 Justice Musale disclosed that Section 166(4) of the Constitution provides that an officer in the public service does not include- the office of a member of any Commission other than a Commission the members of which are hereby or by an Act of the National Assembly declared to hold office in the public service, or a member of the advisory committee on the exercise of the prerogative of mercy or the advisory committee on the conferment of honours.

Justice Musale revealed that Section 166(3) of the Constitution cited by Lawyer G.Bah has no relevance with the Commission at all.

Justice U.A. Musale therefore dismissed the objection as being unmeritorious and declared that Semega S.B Janneh is competent to sign processes as he did in the case between Haruna Jarju against Lamin Gibba and Mutarr Beyai and was qualified to practice as a legal practitioner by virtue of his present public office.

Author: Bruce Asemota