Nov 6, 2009, 2:48 PM
The Chief Justice of the Gambia, Justice Emmanuel Agim, in an address marking the opening of the new Legal Year 2010-11 expressed the judiciary's resolve to widen access to justice in Gambian courts.
"Last year we committed ourselves to the widening of access to justice in our courts by reducing the time and cost of trials, clearing the backlog of cases and improvement of our justice delivery services," he told members of the legal fraternity at a ceremony marking the opening of the Legal Year heldrecently at the Law Courts Complex in Banjul.
According to him, the aim of the Legal Year celebration is to reflect on their activities in the past one year, consider their activities in the next one year and remind themselves of their responsibilities to the society.
In pursuit of the realisation of this objective, he added: "We initiated and successfully completed the following activities: Amendment of the high court (civil procedure) rules to reduce the time and cost of civil trials, avoid frivolous suits and encourage amicable settlement of civil disputes. The High Court Rules (Amendment) 2010 commenced on the 1st January 2010, and over 500 civil cases were filed after this amendment."
Our experience, he noted, is that the amendment had a huge positive impact on civil trials, adding that both the bench and the bar cooperated to ensure its strict compliance and that many civil cases that were filed, were disposed of within months.
"This amendment has proven to be the best guarantee against the further build up of backlog of civil cases in the high court. If we continue to strictly enforce it, backlog of civil cases will remain a past experience," Justice Agim noted.
Agim further told a cross-section of judges, magistrates, prosecutors, lawyers and judicial staff that they secured the appointment of more high court judges to reduce the workload per judge, adding that within the past one year, they secured 10 appointments to the high court bench.
"The court of appeal now has four substantive judges. This is a remarkable improvement considering the fact that for the past 8 years, the courts operated with one or two substantive judge. The past one year witnessed the court of appeal working again at almost full steam, after being comatose for over a year. Over 100 appeals were heard, 50 judgments and 40 rulings delivered," Chief Justice Agim revealed.
He said the judiciary enjoyed huge support from the government in pursuing its priority plans of strengthening the Gambian legal system, noting that this is aimed at widening access to justice for every person in the Gambia. "It provided 95% of the funds used for these activities."
He commended Robert Hurtley (Project Director) and Sanna Dahaba project coodinator of the Legal Capacity Building Project for doing so much to strengthen the judicial capacity. He also commended the UNDP, Commonwealth, and the Gambia Bar Association for their support.
"We must rededicate and continue to commit ourselves fully to the realisation of the government policy objective as contained in the legal sector strategy paper 2007-11. We must continue to improve on our service delivery in our respective stations bearing in mind that what is more important is the public interest of the Gambia," Justice Agim declared.