By Yankuba Jallow
Hassan Bubacar Jallow, the Chief Justice of The Gambia, in consultation and concurrence with President Adama Barrow, has disclosed that he has directed all first class magistrate’s to hear and determine rent disputes.
Justice Jallow said the magistrate’s courts will now serve as rent tribunal.
“I expect that this will facilitate easier access to justice for landlords and tenants on and speedier resolution of their disputes,” Jallow said.
Jallow was speaking at the Legal Year Ceremony held at the Supreme Court complex in Banjul.
Jallow also announced that the Kanifing Industrial Tribunal has been reactivated and it is relocated to a new premises previously occupied by the defunct Constitutional Review Commossiom (CRC). CJ Jallow said pursuant to the provision of the Labour Code 1, and in consultation with the Minister of Trade and Employment, he has appointed the Industrial Tribunal members for Banjul and for each of the administrative regions.
“The network of tribunals should, we hope, facilitate the more expeditious settlement of industrial disputes,” Jallow said.
The Legal Year Celebrations started in 1982 to serve as an occasion for stocktaking of the machinery of justice, reflection on its challenges and dialogue on the way forward to meeting the challenges and promoting the rule of law in our community through delivery of quality justice.
He said since the opening of the legal year in January 2020 the reach of the high court has been extended with the opening of the High Courts in Bakau and Bundung and the commencement of operations of provincial high court sitting variously at Janjanbureh, Basse, Mansakonko and Farafenni.
“This has provided easier access to justice in the rural areas with a significant reduction of the need to transfer high court cases in these regions to Banjul with all the inconvenience and challenges to the parties, witnesses and officials that this entailed in the past,” he said.
The Supreme Court Judge said 2020 was a challenging year for the administration of justice, due largely to the Covid-19 pandemic. He stated that the scourge has indeed posed severe challenges to all aspects of life and activity in The Gambia and globally. He explained that the machinery of justice has not been spared. Jallow went ahead to state that the pandemic poses dangers to health and to life and required them to take strict measures for the preservation and safeguarding of the health and safety of both judiciary staff and of court users. He said the initial measures took the form of stringent personal sanitary measures, reduction of the number of persons in a court room and the reduction of the number of cases that each court should attend to daily.
He said at one point, court sittings were suspended due to the increased risk to court users and also in comformity with existing emergency regulations relating to the pandemic.
Jallow said they used technology to provide virtual court sittings. He said in accordance with Practice Directions One of 2020, two high courts used modern technology platforms to conduct remote or virtual court proceedings was permitted in respect of urgent matters, particularly criminal matters including applications for bail, dispensing with the physical presence or conference if the parties to the case, the judge and court officials and instead connecting all participants through some technical mechanism to conduct proceedings. Jallow disclosed that the virtual courts hear and determine from May to December 2020, 27 criminal cases and 49 civil matters. He added that the subordinate magistrate’s courts also succeeded during this period in hearing and determining a substantial number of bail applications on an emergency basis.
“Both exercises contributed to the decongestion of the prisons at the height of the pandemic in 2020,” he said.
He said the virtual hearing programme has now been extended to the Magistrate’s Courts in West Coast Region, North Bank Region, Lower River Region, Upper River Region, Central River Region and the provincial high court in Basse.
“It is clear now that what was initiated as just an ad hoc and temporary response to the challenges posed by the pandemic to the administration of justice should, give its benefits, remain a permanent feature of the judicial process, minimizing without prejudice to fair and effective hearing, the need for the physical presence of all parties in court and providing amongst others for the filing and service of documents as well as delivery of judgments by remote means,” Jallow said.
He said as part of the recently adopted ICT Strategy the Judiciary plans to expand the programme and ensure that the required rule changes are made to consolidate the use of these systems.
Jallow said the construction of the Bundung Court Complex is expected to be completed in the first half of this year and will accommodate high courts, magistrate’s courts and cadi courts.
Justice Jallow said the improvement of the regulatory and governance framework of the judiciary has taken a step forward with the validation of the draft Judicial Service Commission Regulations in 2020 which now await final review, adoption and promulgation by the Judicial Service Commission. He detailed that the regulations will provide a comprehensive framework for staff management within the Judiciary. Jallow averred that they are at an advanced stage for the recruitment of the personnel of the judiciary’s human resources unit in order to improve on staff management.
Jallow said the judicial system now includes a very extensive network country wide of magistrate’s courts and tribunals as well as of Cadi courts.
“This calls for a more structured and effective system of supervising these courts and monitoring their performance,” Jallow said.
Pursuant to powers vested in him by the Constitution, the Chief Justice established two committees respectively presided over by Justice Basiru V.P. Mahoney, a judge at the Gambia Court of Appeal and Umar Secka, the chairman of Cadi Appeals Panel, to respectively supervise and monitor the magistrates courts and tribunals as well as the Cadi courts and to be reporting to the Chief Justice on their performance.
Jallow also reconstituted the membership of the Ethics Committee of the Judiciary to be presided over by Justice M.M. Sey of the Supreme Court assisted by Justice Kumba Sillah-Camara of the Court of Appeal and Justice B.A. Bakre of the High Court.
Jallow said the Supreme Court now enjoys a full complement of seven local judges and will no longer need to co-opt judges from the Gambia Court of Appeal when it exercises its jurisdiction to review its previous decisions. He maintained that the work programme of the Supreme Court has also been revised to move away from sessional sittings, given the number of local judges available, and instead to sit and hear cases more frequently in order to ensure speedier disposal of its case load. He said Justices Awa Bah and Edrisa F. M’bai have been elevated as Justices of the Supreme Court while Omar M. Njie has been appointed as the President of The Gambia Court of Appeal.