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Legal Aid is for the poor and disadvantaged, says Chief Justice

Nov 26, 2010, 12:04 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

The Chief Justice of the Gambia, Justice Emmanuel Akimoya Agim, has underscored the importance of legal aid stressing that it is out for the poor and disadvantaged to have access to justice.

The head of the Judiciary's remarks were made while presenting a paper on the theme "Who is Entitled to Legal Aid in The Gambia," during a two-day sensitisation workshop for relevant stakeholders on the country on legal aid, which ended yesterday at the Seaview Garden Hotel.

The forum was organised and convened by the Attorney General's Chambers in collaboration with UNDP, and brought together members of the country's security apparatus, including police prosecutors, prison officers, immigration, the army, and National Intelligence Agency operatives, among others.

According to Chief Justice Agim, the Legal Aid Act repealed the Poor Persons Defence Act of 1993 to provide legal aid assistance to those who commit capital offences, adding that it is also for those who cannot afford to pay for the services of lawyers, especially the poor and disadvantaged members of society.

The court, Justice Agim added, has the duty to administer justice, and that the new legal aid agency is young and has a great task ahead, but its work may be frustrated by limited funds and resources.

Chief Justice Agim who was giving reference to the Legal Aid Act said a person is entitled to legal aid in any proceedings in a court or tribunal, where the person is charged with an offence under the criminal code, or in any other enactment which carries a punishment of death or imprisonment for life, in exercise of his or her rights under section 24(3) of the Constitution of the Gambia 1997.

"A child is entitled to legal aid in a proceeding in the Children's Court, brought by or on behalf of a child, in exercise of his or her rights under section 72(1)(f) of the Children’s Act, 2005," Chief Justice Agim further quoted the Act as saying.

Speaking earlier on behalf of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Pa Harry Jammeh, the Solicitor General and Legal Secretary at the AG Chambers, also dilated on the importance of the workshop, adding that the Attorney General’s Chambers is committed to ensuring access to justice.

SG Jammeh announced that the Government has already allocated one million dalasis to the National Legal Aid Agency.

Jammeh used the forum to urge the participants to learn from the resource persons in order to disseminate the information gained to their colleagues, who are unfortunate to attend.

The chairperson of the National Legal Aid Agency, Justice Lamin Jobarteh, who is also a high court judge, added his voice in urging the participants to devote their time to learn more about the new legal aid scheme, as they are key stakeholders.

Justice Jorbateh is of the view that without close partnership and collaboration it will be difficult for the agency to execute or effectively carry out its mandate.

The scheme is out to give access to justice to the poor and vulnerable or otherwise disadvantaged in one way or the other, for them to secure the services of a legal counsel, he announced.

The chairman of the agency called for more funds for the effective implementation of agency projects.

Justice Jobarteh reminded the gathering that the agency has secured the services of some legal aid lawyers, and personnel.

Charles Sarr Thomas, the Administrator at the Legal Aid Agency gave a brief background of the agency, saying it has fully started operations since it was launched by the Vice President some months ago.

The agency's Administrator further added that legal aid could also be accessible in rural Gambia, while dilating on eligibility for accessing such aid.

The two-day workshop included question and answer sessions with the resource persons.