The Gambia on Sunday 5th February, marked the beginning of the new legal year.
During the ceremony which was attended by cabinet ministers, members of the bench and bar and the public, speeches were delivered by the President, the Chief Justice and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
In the next edition we will publish a comprehensive report on the ceremony. For now, we will publish the statement read by the President. Readers should note that the President did assure the nation that his government will proceed with constitutional reform.
STATEMENT BY PRESIDENT ADAMA BARROW
The centrality of justice in a democracy makes the annual celebration of the Legal Year particularly significant for The Gambia. The occasion gives us the opportunity to review our performance within the legal sector and look ahead to plan better and work harder to address our shortcomings and reinforce our strengths. For this purpose, I will briefly make specific references to exemplify our commitment to justice and the law.
Over the years, my government took giant strides to uphold good governance, democracy and the rule of law, especially with regard to the separation of powers between the three organs of government. In doing so, we have accomplished a lot towards the establishment of justice and the provision of legal services through the Ministry of Justice.
Specifically, my government considers the White Paper on the finding of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) as a major part of our national transitional justice process, and we hold ourselves duty-bound to implementing it in a transparent manner.
To achieve this, we are working with relevant stakeholders and partners to establish a prosecution system to impartially try the perpetrators of human rights abuses and violations mentioned in the report. The White Paper also contains the Government’s expressed decision to set up a Special Prosecution Office mandated to investigate and prosecute accused persons within its terms of reference.
It is worth observing that the prosecution of crimes, such as torture, enforced disappearances, and crimes against humanity, are not specifically provided for under Gambian law.
To deliver justice, therefore, we propose to develop a special judicial framework and create a hybrid court to try perpetrators whose offenses amount to international crimes. We will pursue this in agreement with our obligation under customary international law.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
My government’s decision to establish an independent National Human Rights Commission to effectively advance human rights in The Gambia has already gained international approval.
The Commission has attained an A-status accreditation with the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which is indeed a historical milestone in our transitional justice process.
At home, in observance of best international human rights standards, the Government has stepped up engagements to respect, protect, and promote the fundamental human rights of people, with specific focus on women, children, and marginalised groups.
Through the Ministry of Justice, cases of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence are diligently prosecuted to discharge justice for the victims.
Likewise, to reduce crime and violence, thorough investigations and proper procedures precede the prosecution of all suspects brought before the law.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Access to Information Act raises the prospects for greater transparency and accountability. The Government has facilitated the training of Record Officers from different Ministries for them to execute their mandates as required within the provisions of the Act.
My Government understands the implications of misinformation and false news fed to the public, and we have full respect for freedom of expression and association under international law. As such, we should all take responsibility to willingly implement the Act and safeguard our democratic institutions. This is essential for sustained peace, order, and national stability.
To guarantee the separation of powers between the three main organs of the Government, particularly the independence of the Judiciary, my Government does not interfere with the administration of justice. In fact, we have consistently supported the appointment of independent and impartial Judges to preside over court cases based on the law.
I am pleased to state that, to address the welfare of the sector personnel, Cabinet recently approved the long-awaited Judicial Officers Remuneration and other Entitlements Bill. Hopefully, the Ministry of Justice will present it to the National Assembly soon. It will lead to the first-ever legislation to regulate and protect the conditions of service of Judicial Officers, particularly Judges of the Superior Courts.
Also granted Cabinet approval is the Legal Practitioners’ Amendment Bill. The Bill has provisions to guide the General Legal Counsel on free legal services for needy persons, as well as strengthening the regulation of legal practice.
To address the backlog of cases in the Judiciary and ensure equal access to justice, we now have additional courts that operate within the Bundung Law Courts Complex.
Members of the Legal Fraternity,
We have re-constituted the Judicial Service Commission. Guided by the Constitution, and among other responsibilities, it is to advise the President on the appointment of Judges and make recommendations on ways of improving the administration and efficiency of the Courts. All these are geared towards maintaining the independence of our judicial system.
The security services have also made improvements on the execution of their duties, and they are aware of the need to operate under the rule of law. Correspondingly, there are ongoing efforts to guarantee the rights of prisoners and improve prison conditions to ease the rehabilitation and re-integration of inmates into society after imprisonment. The Government will pursue this further through partnerships with NGOs and train prisoners on rights issues and essential life skills.
The approval of The Gambia Prisons Amendment Bill, 2023 is another big leap towards better prison management and good governance. Once enacted, the Act will establish The Gambia Prisons Services and The Gambia Prison Service Council to regulate the prisons, custody treatment, and prisoners’ rights in compliance with our obligation under international law.
In the same vein, we have enacted other legislations, including the Disabilities Act and The Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA) Act. To effectively fight corruption, the new Procurement legislation will complement the Anti-Corruption law, which is currently before the National Assembly.
Our Learned friends,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
An objective review of the legal sector would clearly reveal my Government’s commitment to entrenching democratic values and principles in our governance structures and procedures. Despite all the challenges, we have attained the key objectives set for the sector and have mapped a way forward to strengthen the rule of law in The Gambia.
I extend profound gratitude to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime for relentlessly supporting the development of the 2023 Roadmap in the areas of criminal justice administration and transnational crimes. We are equally grateful that they are committed to providing more budgetary support and resources for a stronger criminal justice system in the country.
In all fairness, the Judiciary, under the leadership of the Honourable Chief Justice, Hassan B. Jallow, similarly deserves commendation for the achievements registered since the beginning of the transitional justice process. They have restored public confidence in our legal system.
It is obvious that the successes relating to enforcements of the rule of law, good governance, democracy, and human rights are largely due to the foundations of justice laid by the Judiciary and our resolve to develop a better Gambia.
As our primary goal is to attain a prosperous and stable democracy, living by the law as committed Gambian citizens is an ethical means of achieving it. I encourage the legal sector personnel to live by the ethics of their profession and deliver in accordance with the Constitution and other laws, as we expect them to interpret and apply them on behalf of the people.
While wishing you all a successful year ahead, I now have the honour of declaring the 2023 Legal Year officially open.