Gambia’s president Adama Barrow’s promise to build a stronger institution seems to have kicked off with the swearing in of some home grown judges alongside their foreign counterparts. This comes after many years of strong-arm tactics employed by the ousted Yahaya Jammeh to cow the judiciary to do his bidding.
However, Barrow has made a declaration that his country will not return to those dark days of impunity and blatant disregard of constitutional order.
The six judges sworn at an introduction ceremony in Banjul’s High Court are Cherno Sulayman Jallow, a former Attorney General of the British Virgin Islands and Mary Mam Yassin Sey, a former Gambian judge who resigned and went to work for the United Nations as a legal adviser, were appointed to the Supreme Court. Gambians appointed to the Appeals Court were Naceesay Sallah Wadda, a former Gambian justice on the panel sacked by Jammeh last year, and Omar Njie, a former vice-president of the Gambia Bar Association. Nigerian Abubakar Datti Yahaya and Sierra Leonean justice Nicholas Colin Browne-Marke were also appointed to the Supreme Court,
President Barrow has emphasised that “the role of the judiciary in this new dispensation cannot be overemphasised. We count on all of you to effectively and honestly contribute to building a strong, open and just society underpinned by the respect for human rights, democracy and freedom for all.”
While Barrow’s emergence has signalled a new era in Gambia, it is pertinent to point out that there’s a lot of work to be done to undo the damages of the Jammeh era. And Barrow cannot do it alone.
Beginning with the appointment of locals as judges of the Supreme and Appeal courts, Gambia has set itself up to become independent and free of foreign interference. While it may be too soon for Gambia to begin to rely solely on home grown judges after many years of having foreign judges, it has opened the way for the country’s judiciary to no longer be grounded by whims of imported judges.
The appointment of Gambian judges should further inspire Confidence in the judiciary. Gambians have shown a lot of concern about corruption and favouritism which have characterised the presence of Nigerian legal practitioners. Local judges will hopefully be more patriotic in the discharge of their duties.
Much has been made out of the reluctance of Gambians to work in their legal systems, hopefully, they will be interested again.
Gambia’s Chief Judge Hassan Bubacar Jallow believes that the appointment of these new judges who have “distinguished legal careers here and abroad brings much to the legal system.” However, these local judges need to be trained and re-trained on the demands of their jobs if they are to respond to the current realities of the country.
When the temptation to interfere with the functions of the judiciary comes up, the world hopes that Barrow and his new independent judiciary will be able to resist. It would be very important that they all continue to respect the independence of the judiciary, which is a key element in the democratic set up that Barrow has promised to uphold.