EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: The National Assembly in its fourth ordinary session in the 2019 legislative year, have considered the 2019 Constitutional Amendment Bill that seeks to indigenise the judicial system.
Moving the motion before the deputies on Tuesday, Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubacarr Tambedou said the Bill was tabled “to remove the unwarranted distinction” among public and private legal practitioners.
He alluded to the fact that in the existing constitutional provision, there is anomalous situation that unduly restrict the elevation of suitable judicial officers from the lower to the superior bench.
“Presently, magistrates who are legal practitioners are not eligible for appointment as high court judges even with a post call experience beyond five years unless they have occupied the post of a principal magistrate or master for at least five years”, he said.
This made it possible for a private legal practitioner to be eligible for appointment to the high court earlier than the one who opts for service as a judicial officer on the lower bench.
Such a constitutional arrangement according to the Attorney General, poses a challenge to the entire delivery of justice in the country.
“One of the many challenges we have in the administration of justice system, in terms of delivery of efficient, quality service is that, we don’t not have the necessary quota to fill in the vacancies”, he noted.
He persuaded the National Assembly members to consider a turn in a situation where the Justice Ministry cannot fill vacancies especially from the lower bench due to the existing requirements.
The country’s draft constitution dictates that a person is qualified for appointment as a judge of the High Court if he/she is qualified as a distinguished academic, judicial officer, legal practitioner or legal practitioner in Shari’ah and has been so qualified for a period of not less than seven years.
The member for Latrikunda Sabaji, Saikou Marong expressed satisfaction with what is provided for in the draft constitution but the motion to debate on the bill was favored by majority of votes.
Halifa Sallah, Member for Serrekunda believed that five years is sufficient to give the person the qualifications to [a High Court] jurisdiction to ensure that the appropriate people get the responsibility to be able to provide the justice that the country cannot do without.
Fatoumatta Njai, Member for Banjul South raised her thumb on the idea to indigenise the judiciary, adding that it will help change the old story [where functions of the judiciary] rested on the support of non-Gambian judges.
Her Banjul North counterpart, Ousman Sillah observed the relevance of the bill on count that it has the potential of ending “unequal treatment” between public and private practitioners.
Sulayman Saho of Central Badibou argued that the restriction of Gambians to occupy such positions was in itself a violation of their rights.
Nominated Member of the National Assembly, Majanko Samusa expressed feeling that the subject of discussion didn’t require a long debate, for the motion was long overdue.
For the Jarra East, Sainey Touray observed that it was far too long, that the Gambia’s judicial sector is being maned by ‘foreign nationals’, and that it was now time to fill the vacant post with Gambians with a view to cut down unemployment.