Sunday, October 17, 2021

State Reintroduces Contempt Proceeding Against UTG Staff Association

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By Yankuba Jallow & Fatou O. Barrow

The University of The Gambia (UTG) and the Attorney General (AG) have on Wednesday, 29th September reintroduced the contempt proceeding against the leaders of the University of the Gambia Faculty and Staff Association (UTGFSA) accusing them of disrespecting the court orders made against them.

The high court on the 14th September ordered that: “An order of interim injunction restraining the respondent [the University of The Gambia Faculty and Staff Association], its executive, officers, members, agents, servants, employees or howsoever, from embarking on the industrial strike action scheduled to take place on the 15th September 2021 in relation to a resolution passed by the Respondent [UTGFSA] at its congress [held] on the 8th September 2021 pending the hearing and determination of the Originating Summons or further orders of this honourable court.”

The court further ordered that the executive members of the UTGFSA to immediately and publicly call off the sit-down strike pending the hearing and determination of the case. 

The employees of the UTG began a sit-down strike on Wednesday, 15th September 2021, a day after the court order was made.

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Contempt of court, often referred to simply as contempt, is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a court of law in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court. 

The previous motion for the contempt case was withdrawn last week Friday by the UTG and the AG without giving their reasons. After the withdrawal, the court struck out the motion which was on notice. The new motion for the contempt proceeding is an “ex-parte” application.

An “ex-parte” motion is one that is brought before the court without requiring all of the parties in a dispute to be present.

Lawyer Kimbeng Tah, appearing for the UTG and AG, said the contempt proceeding is an “ex-parte” motion which does not require the presence of the UTGFSA.

The UTG and AG want the UTGFSA executive members to show cause why they should not be held in contempt of the high court orders dated 14th September 2021. Also, they want UTGFSA leaders to show cause why they should not be committed for contempt of the high court orders dated 14th September 2021.

The affidavit in-support was sworn to by one Fatoumata Mballow, a pupil state counsel at the Attorney General’s Chambers.

She said the high court granted an interim injunction through an “ex-parte” application restraining the UTGFSA, its executive and members, officers, agents, servants and employees from embarking on an industrial action on the 15th September 2021.

She stated in her averment that the court ordered, directing all executive members of the UTGFSA to immediately and publicly call off their planned strike action.

Finally, she said the court ordered, restraining the president and the executive members of the UTGFSA from embarking on any picketing or industrial action pending the hearing and determination of the originating summons. She said UTGFSA were served on the same day.

She said on the night of the 14th September, one Yorro Njie, the Secretary General of UTGFSA, issued a release which was widely circulated, confirming the service of the court order had been effected on the president of the association.

But in spite of the unambiguous orders contained in the court’s ruling, Counsel Mballow said Mr Njie asked members to “stay at home”.

She further said statements were released and widely circulated by which it was confirmed that the executive has sought legal advice and were still proceeding with the strike in defiance of the court order.

She said that demonstrated that the UTGFSA and its executive were cognisant of their contemptuous acts as well as the consequences of the message ended with the ‘has tag’ #arrestonearrestall#.

Counsel Mballow said the UTGFSA and its executive did not only stop there, but went as far as threatening retaliation against other members who sought to comply with the high court orders.

She explained that in a message released and widely circulated by one Dr Ensa Touray, the Vice President of the UTGFSA, he stated that they will monitor staff to see who will betray “this noble cause”.

She added that Dr Touray further threatened that “if anyone is found going against the congress resolutions, we shall deal with him/her appropriately”. She said the strikers also disregarded the court’s order saying “Together we are stronger than any court.”

Counsel Mballow said she was shown screenshots of those messages and statements which were produced and exhibited into the records. She said the UTG and AG will be severely prejudiced if the UTGFSA and its executive are allowed to continue defying the court’s orders.

She said the executive members were; Dr Alieu Gibba as President, Dr Ensa Touray as Vice President, Mr Yorro Njie as Secretary General, Mr Ebrima Bojang as Financial Controller and Mr Alhagie Ceesay as Auditor.

The contempt proceeding will be coming before another judge who will be assigned by the Chief Justice.

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