The New Chief Justice and the New Gambia

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The appointment of a Gambian legal luminary, Alhaji Hassan Bubacar Jallow, to the high and coveted office of Chief Justice of The Gambia, has been welcomed with euphoria and hope by Gambians from all walks of life.

The International Community and Human Rights organizations are also reported to be enthusiastic about the appointment of the new Chief Justice.

To many people, Alhaji Hassan Jallow represents hope and renewal, and an opportunity to revive the Judiciary, which has lost public confidence and whose integrity is in tatters. 

After twenty-two years of misrule, during which foreign judges aided and abetted a brutal dictator by using the judiciary as an instrument of suppression and oppression, Gambians are looking forward to an independent, impartial and strong body, that will  give justice its true meaning by upholding the rule of law through the equitable dispensation of justice.

The immediate challenge facing the new Chief Justice is the ability to initiate bold and innovative reforms that would vindicate the Judiciary before a frustrated public, whose only experience with foreign judges are protracted litigation over trumped-up or politically-motivated charges, dubious verdicts, and long jail terms. 

The new Chief Justice, as a matter of urgency, should review the selection and retention criteria and put in place a vigorous system to ensure that magistrates, judges and judicial staff are the best professionals with the requisite qualifications, integrity and moral rectitude. 

The way courts are conducted, the accountability of the Judiciary, the complaints procedure against the legal profession, the education of and training of judicial staff and the way legal services are delivered to the public should all be the subject of critical examination and redress.

We wish to draw the attention of the new Chief Justice, that under the defunct regime, the only people who were immune from judicial harassment were the cohorts and apologists of the Dictator.

It is, therefore, imperative that under our system of separation of powers, the new Chief Justice should re-engineer and reposition the Judiciary to restore the traditional values of the law, which is anchored on the principle of equal justice for all. 

While we advocate for an independent judiciary, we would also call for the articulation and enforcement of a Code of Conduct to which all judicial staff will scrupulously adhere.

In the same vein, the new Chief Justice should strive to protect Magistrates and Judges, indeed all judicial staff from influence-peddlers and agents of corruption.

An attractive remuneration and benefits package buttressed by excellent conditions of service, including security of tenure, will not only serve as an antidote to corruption, but will facilitate the recruitment  and retention of the best and the brightest for the Judiciary. 

We also wish to encourage the new Chief Justice, to reach-out to the nation’s senior lawyers who are not tainted by service to the defeated Dictator, and encourage them to make the transition from the “Bar to the Bench” in service to the nation. 

We make this appeal, not out of xenophobia but because Gambians are now allergic to foreign judges.

The wounds inflicted on Gambians by foreign judges under the erstwhile regime are still raw and memories of how they perverted the law to perpetuate a brutal and tyrannical regime are still fresh in our minds. 

They were demi gods who presided over our fates and determined with arrogance, who should and should not enjoy freedom, liberty or life.

In short, the foreign judges were the enablers and facilitators of the reign of terror and impunity. It is clear from this perspective, that appointing a foreign judge to be Chief Justice or to strategic judicial positions is tantamount to surrendering our sovereignty. 

The Gambia has always welcomed lawyers, jurists and judges from abroad, but we must from now on avoid the mistake of entrusting a whole arm of government to a foreign national.  

If need  be,  the Chief Justice should  work with reputable institutions such as  the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation  to fill-in vacancies where local expertise is unavailable. 

The desire for change is palpable and the tempo for change must be accelerated to meet the high expectations of Gambians, who have gone through the darkest days of tyranny. In spite of the colossal challenges facing the Judiciary, Gambians have confidence in the new Chief Justice.

Given his qualifications from the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Nigerian Law School and University College, London, Alhaji Hassan Jallow is well placed to shoulder the heavy responsibility of leading the Gambian Judiciary.

Given his multi-faced experiences as a former Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Supreme Court Judge and Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, we are confident that the new Chief Justice will deliver as expected.  

We pray that Allah will grant the new Chief Justice the requisite wisdom and fortitude to lead and transform the Judiciary for the benefit of The Gambia and Gambians.

Justice begets Peace

The Point