Judge Calls for Amendment of District Tribunals Act

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To Enhance Court’s Autonomy

By Kemeseng Sanneh

Justice Sainabou Wadda-Cisse has called on the Gambia Government to amend the District Tribunals Act to enhance the court’s independence and integrity.

The Act was promulgated in 1933.

She said the District Tribunals Act to a large extent operates to compromise the independence and integrity of the District Tribunals in the discharge of its judicial functions, given the unfettered powers vested in the Governors and the Minister to supervise, regulate and interfere with the proceedings and even decisions of the Tribunals. She added that the Governors and Minister are political appointees and therefore answerable to the executive arm of government.

“As political appointees their powers over the District Tribunals undoubtedly undermine the principle of separation of powers and rob the Tribunals of their judicial independence,” she said.

Below is the Judge’s full commentary on the District Tribunals Act.

“I wish to conclude by highlighting the fact that the legislature being a branch of government has in its wisdom imposed a restriction to legal representation before the District Tribunals by virtue of Section 33 of the District Tribunals Act. I shall venture to say that the courts should exercise restraint to attribute a superior wisdom regarding matters entrusted to the legislature.

This notwithstanding, there is of course the urgent need from the executive and the legislature to reform and amend the District Tribunals Act and certain other provisions in our laws to align them to the letter and spirit of the 1997 Constitution. With all due respect, the current state of affairs is chaotic and permitting legal practitioners to appear before the Tribunals will further compound the problems. The District Tribunals Act to a large extent operate to compromise the independence and integrity of the District Tribunals in the discharge of their judicial functions, given the unfettered powers vested in the Governors and the Minister to supervise, regulate and interfere with the proceedings and even decisions of the Tribunals. The Governors and Minister are political appointees and therefore answerable to the executive arm of government. As political appointees, their powers over the District Tribunals undoubtedly undermine the principle of separation of powers and rob the Tribunals of their judicial independence. There is also an urgent need to consider the composition, qualifications and qualities of members of the District Tribunals. The jurisdictions of these Tribunals are very broad and the members must possess the requisite skills and competence to discharge their duties in accordance with the laws of the land without violating the rights and freedoms of the individuals.”