Call To The Bar Speech
Hon Minister of Women’s Affairs overseeing the Office of the Vice President,
Honourable Cabinet Ministers,
My Lord the Chief Justice,
Director General of the Gambia Law School and members of the Academic Board of the Gambia Law School,
Honourable Judges of the Superior Courts,
My learned Friends,
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am deeply honoured and privileged to be invited as Guest Speaker to the 5th Call to the Bar Ceremony.
I have given a lot of thought to the topic that I would want to talk about today and I have decided, that; since this Call to the Bar ceremony follows on the heels of the triumph of the Gambian people over what has been described as one of the most tyrannical and repressive regimes in Africa- which was a dictatorship spanning over 22 years, I should use this opportunity to talk about and to celebrate the undeniable contribution of the Gambia Bar in forcing the dictatorship out office particularly in December 2016, when the Bar under the able leadership of Sheriff M. Tambadou, issued a powerful statement calling upon the defeated President Yaya Jammeh to relinquish power and to respect the wishes of the Gambian people who had voted in a New Government headed by His Excellency Adama Barrow.
However, it is necessary to put matters in context; that is to say that for quite a very long time, the Gambia Bar Association was criticised, vilified and in some cases ridiculed by certain sectors of the community for not taking a more proactive role in standing up against the the prevailing atmosphere of injustice, repression, disregard for the rule of law and interference in the judiciary and for its reluctance to take on “unpopular” cases which is another way of saying cases in which the Government had an interest.
In my opinion, it would be too simplistic and unjustified to tar the entire membership of the Gambia Bar Association with the same brush. I say this because not all members of the Association remained silent. I must therefore at this stage pay tribute to few practitioners and judges who lived up to their oath to administer and advocate for justice without fear or favour. Those courageous practitioners and judges stood up for the rule of law despite all the risks involved under the then prevailing atmosphere of dictatorship, they deserve special mention.
I therefore begin with:
1) The Honourable Chief Justice Hassan B. Jallow. He was the First Victim of the Dictatorship when as as Minister of Justice, Attorney General and Leader of the Bar under the Government of Sir Dawda Jawara, which was overthrown in 1994, he was arrested, detained and eventually placed under House arrest. That undeniable fact is mentioned in his Lordship’s book Journey for Justice. He was also the subject of a bogus Commission of Enquiry set up by the Junta and was subsequently banned from holding public office. Later on, as a Judge of the Supreme Court of The Gambia, he was unceremoniously removed. The Bar challenged the unconstitutionality of His Lordship’s removal by going on a boycott of the Courts.
2) ANMO Darboe who is now our Minister for Foreign Affairs stood up when it mattered. He has been arrested and detained on numerous occasions and in 2016 imprisoned for 3 years for exercising a constitutional right to assemble.
3) Mr. Lamin Camara, Mr. Borry S. Touray and Mr Sheriff Tambedou who never shyed away from unpopular cases.
4) The famous team of 17 lawyers led by myself assisted by eminent practitioner such as Mrs A. Bensouda, Mrs Hawa Sisay Sabally, Rachael Y. Mendy and others who teamed up to defend UDP supporters after they were arrested, brutalised, charged and brought to court amidst court rooms full of guns. The eventual walk out of the team and the refusal of the presiding Judge to hear Mr. Darboe’s allocotus had far reaching consequences for the judiciary of this country.
The list is not exhaustive. Despite the criticisms made against the Bar, it has acted as a collective body in other instances over the past 22 years tackling difficult situations head on:
1. Under the leadership of Mr Surahata B. S. Janneh as President of the Bar, the Gambia Bar Association condemned the Coup in 1994 as a subversion of the Constitution.
2. In the case of then Justice Paul who consistently threatened to lock up lawyers ( and did in fact lock up my very self) the Bar boycotted his court to such an extent that he was rendered redundant and ultimately left the jurisdiction.
3. In 2011, the Bar demanded for Former Chief Justice Agim to step down as he was not a fit and proper person to be Chief Justice.
4. Last year, the Bar called on Chief Justice Fagbenle to step down due to his misconduct and violation of the Judge’s Code of Conduct.
The Bar has however not come out unscathed during the 22 year period of standing up for justice. For one illegal reason or the other Members have found themselves in prison at the Mile 2 Prisons, detained at the Banjul Police Headquarters or at the notorious NIA Headquarters.
1) Our present Speaker of the National Assembly Mrs Mariam Denton was illegally detained at Mile 2 for three months in the aftermath of the 2006 attempted court and released without charge.
2) I, Myself was detained and confined to the notorious maximum security wing at Mile 2 for over a week in 2006. It is worthy to point out that some of the persons who were contemporaneously detained with me were removed from their cells in the dead of night and have never returned to their families.
3) In 2012 Mrs Amie Bensouda was detained for 3 days and nights at the Police Headquarters in Banjul and released without charge.
4) Mary Abdoulie Samba was detained at the NIA for days.
5) Myself, Mr A.N.O Darboe and Mr. S.B.S Janneh were once detained at the NIA for hours and released without charge.
6) In 2003, a very Senior Member of the Gambia Bar Association Alhaji Ousman Sillah was shot outside his compound at Bakau New Town.
The list is not exhaustive.
Attempts have been made to polarise the Bar to encourage the creation of another Bar Association as a rival to the Gambia Bar Association. As far I know that rival Association had only 1 member and seemed to have been consigned to the limbo of lost causes.
Last year the number of Bar representatives at the General Legal Council have been reduced from 4 members to just one in order to ensure that professional legal training was controlled by the then Regime.
The Bar’s constitutional right to be consulted by the Attorney General in the appointment of a member to the Judicial Service Commission has been ignored by the former regime.
You heard the advice of My Lord the Chief Justice. I do not need to repeat it.
From the examples I have sought to highlight what stands out out as an important attribute of a legal practitioner is courage in the face of adversity, that includes not being afraid to take the unpopular route or cases. Another thing that stands out is that with unity comes strength. What happened in December 2016 was an example of the Bar uniting to uphold the constitution and in the process the Bar inspired and gave courage to other professional bodies and Associations to speak up. One of the founder members of #GambiaHasDecided is a well known Legal Practitioner Salieu Taal.
I therefore encourage you the new entrants to the profession to join and support the activities of the Association and to respect the ideals of the Association.
The Bar Association in the New Gambia led by His Excellency President Adama Barrow:
Is committed to working with Government to promote the Rule of Law, restore and reinforce the independence of the Judiciary and generally develop the administration of Justice.
The Bar expects that the administration of Justice will be wholly controlled and manned by able Gambians and that foreigners will be brought in only in exceptional circumstances and under bilateral arrangements only. This is not only an expectation of the Bar but it is also an expectation shared by the ordinary Gambian.
The Bar expects that the structures of dictatorship and repression will be dismantled. The Bar will resist any attempts to perpetuate the influence of the previous regime.
Jeremy Taylor a famous Cleric who lived in the times of Oliver Cromwell (another Dictator) once said:
“ A king, a Judge and an Advocate, doing the work of their employment according to their proper rules are doing the work of God, because they serve those necessities which God has made and yet made no provision for them except by their Ministry.”
That statement recognises the need for these three great institutions of the King, a Judge and an Advocate to do their work according to their proper rules.
To the new entrants; You are joining a very old an ancient profession from whose members the twin attributes of diligence and vigilance are always expected. In the words of Lord Radcliff “you cannot train a judge to be judge but you can educate a lawyer to be a lawyer.” By being called to the Bar today you are on the threshold of the beginning of your education to become lawyers.
I congratulate you. I welcome you and wish you all the very best in the Profession and hope to see you in Court where Mrs Amie Bensouda, Sheriff, Tambedou and others would be waiting for you.