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Lawyers call for security of tenure

Dec 27, 2010, 11:03 AM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

The Gambia Bar Association (GBA) has called for security of tenure for judges, and the assurance of their total independence.

The call was made through GBA President Sheriff M. Tambedou, who delivered a statement at the opening of the 2010-2011 Legal Year held recently at the High Court Complex in Banjul.

He said the Bar association is of the view that the acceptance by Gambians to be appointed to the bench is cause for celebration, and can only mean that conditions of appointment to be a judge have improved, and are better now than in the past.

“Whilst this is good, there is always room for improvement in the provision of security of tenure for judges and the assurance of their total independence,” he added.

According to Tambedou, the legal year ceremony was a moment and an opportunity for all stakeholders in the legal sector, that is, the Government, the Judiciary and the Bar to take stock of their achievements, shortcomings and the challenges they face in their continuing drive to improve the sector.

“The government has made laudable efforts in recent years to improve, reform and develop the legal system. Not only has much been achieved in the speed by which justice is delivered, but also the decentralization of the courts system, thereby making it more accessible to the general population,” he added.

Tambedou asked the government to encourage more consultations and dialogue between the various stakeholders including the Bar in the various debates and discussions in matters touching on and concerning improvements in the legal system.

It is the primary function of the government to take up and lead efforts to face the challenge of ensuring improvements in the legal sector, Tambedou continued.

This task cannot be left in the hands of the government alone, since the rest of society, and the world at large, have a duty to support its efforts, he went on.

In his statement, GBA president Tambedou also touched on burning issues.

“We must tread with caution. The law in this country is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. I have seen many times when a person or persons are arrested and charged with a crime, or suspected of having committed a crime or are under investigation, they are shown on national television.

“In some cases, the persons who are shown on tv are later found to be innocent of those charges, and are discharged by the courts, or sometimes even released by the police after investigations are completed,” he pointed out.

He went on to advise the police force to desist from such, if it is responsible, “as it violates constitutionally guaranteed rights, and may be prejudicial”.

The GBA president also expressed the view that a good and harmonious Bar-Bench relationship can only result in a progressive and orderly conduct of the judiciary’s functions and judicial processes.

“We must work hand in hand with the government and the Judiciary to improve the system. In fact, we have more at stake, as we represent the various peoples and communities in their disputes and in issues before the courts,” he told the annual gathering of the legal fraternity.

Tambedou also called on his colleagues not only co-operate so as to ensure that court matters are dealt with speedily, but also ensure that the system is not overburdened because of them. “There is a lot of blame that legal practitioners cause the delay and backlog in the courts,” he said.

“We at the Bar do not subscribe to this view; we believe that in a system in which there are different working parts, each part must cooperate and work in tandem for it to work more effectively and efficiently. Each part has its share of responsibility and blame,” Tambedou declared.

He added: “We as judges, government and legal practitioners may not all agree on the best way forward to achieving our common goals and objective. What is important is for all to understand that we are in this together.”

“To the Chief Justice, I say the Bar will always make complaints and reports, and even criticisms. But we urge you to please receive these complaints, reports and criticisms with an open mind, and know that they are not done in bad faith or with any other intention other than to complement your efforts. It is only an attempt to try and further the practice in the courts, the law, clients’ interests so we can all make the system work better.”

To the government, SM Tambedou added: “We as legal practitioners are only doing our jobs. This is our calling, our profession and this is where we earn our living.

“Unfortunately, we are in the public domain, and in the public eye. The cases we do are not personal to us. To achieve the objective of an impartial, independent and efficient legal system, we must promote an independent Bar.”