(JollofNews) – Gentlemen of the Gambia Bar Association,
Your letter dated 13th December 2016 but delivered after it was broadcasted on the Radio sometimes around the 21st or thereabout of the same month refers.
I have taken time to look at the statutory provisions you referred to and I felt comfortable with your reference to section 141 of the Constitution of The Gambia as a legitimate avenue to join issues with you at such time and in such constitutionally guaranteed forum and by impartial referees and observers.
I have told you many times in our several meetings that I believe in the rule of law and I cherish the structures and institutions put in place in The Gambia to make the rule of law work to the advantage of those who believe in it and are ready, willing and happy to use the institutions so provided. The forum provided in section 141 of the constitution to determine grievances against the Chief Justice is sufficiently robust and safeguarding enough for me and I thank you for demonstrating your faith in that procedure and your commitment to use it.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am compelled to respond to your letter, even though the answer to each of the issues you raised lies in your bosom and among your members.
I believe that the fallouts of the December 1st 2016 elections is the reason for your letter otherwise you are witnesses to the fact that I never wrong anyone of you as you have repeatedly stated that you have nothing against me in person.
I have maintained an open door policy since I assume office as the Chief Justice and have invited you all to several meetings, seminars or workshops so that we can rob minds together to promote a more vibrant, efficient, people serving and result oriented judiciary for the Gambia.
After sharing the template of my desired goals as Chief Justice with all of you in two or three different meetings, you all commended it and expressed support for it. I have also taken time to ask your Bar Association members individually and collectively to contribute funds or electronic materials to this project and I sincerely accepted your explanation that your present drive to generate funds to build your GBA Secretariat will not allow you to divert attention to any other challenges for now.
I have individually and collectively at different times invited your members to come and join the High Court, Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court at different times and again I accepted your diverse explanations that you have served your times and contributed diverse quotas in the past and so cannot come on board again. You rather prefer to remain in private practice and leave the space for the younger ones to do their part.
I have invited your members and Executive officers on several occasions to judiciary programs and you attended just like you invited me and I attended and we talked honestly and frankly in all such meetings about how to make more advancement in the legal sector. Your members have visited my office either personally or officially or on my invitation to resolve professional issues and you all went away satisfied that the ends of justice have been served. I cannot recall any occasion where we have unreconselled or irreconcilable differences.
We discussed and agreed to sacrifice part of our long vacation to clear old cases from the courts. We agree to formalize Pupilage and Tenancy programs for new graduates of the Gambia Law School to improve quality justice delivery in the Gambia. The proposal that resolved the enrollment of the last Gambian Law School graduates came from your members. Your draft rules for a gazetted Pupilage Rules is already submitted to the AG office with much commendation from me and is awaiting the contribution of other parties. The conclusion of our discussions where we agree to pursue the inclusion of more representatives of the Bar on the amended Legal Practitioners act has been communicated to the appropriate quarters. The correction to the judicial calendar of January to December was rectified after your inputs were sought.
Your members have been invited as guest speakers for the proposed annual Judges Conference, and also invited to contribute articles to the proposed Gambia Law Journal in the making. Your members contributed to the sensitization of the Gambia people on the just concluded access to justice program and the publication and launching of the recent 2016 Supreme Court and Sharia Court Law Reports. All these developments convinced me that we were working as true partners for the development of the legal sector of the Gambia, which I hold so dear.
Concerning your recent surprising allegations:
You accused me of interfering with judicial officials and caused them to be dismissed when they made decisions deemed to be against the state’s interest;
You did not mention which “judicial officials I interfered with or who I caused to be dismissed when they made decisions deemed to be against the state’s interest” what are these cases that are against state interest and who are these judicial officials dismissed and what decisions did they make that are deemed to be against State interest.
Why not consult with members of the Judicial Service Commission without whose knowledge a judicial officer cannot be employed or terminated if they can be helpful to provide the details that may be of assistance to you. Gentlemen, these allegations are as untrue as they are baseless. I cannot recall any complaint from you against any judge but your complaints against the young magistrates are the reasons for the relentless training workshops and seminars we organized for their development.
You accused me of accelerating the trial of OusainouDarboe& Co:
The case of State Vs Ousainou Darboe & Ors, started with a team of about sixteen defence lawyers who took dates together with the trial judge without any protest. You all worked hard with me during my tenure to put an end to all form of delays in the trial of cases because the constitution demanded for prompt trial of cases and the accused persons themselves took dates agreeable to them and the trial court. I was not there and you know it. How then could you accuse me of accelerating the trial?
Your team of lawyers led by barrister Antouman Gaye and Mrs. Bensouda came to my office to protest the transfer of the case of State Vs Lamin Sonko & Ors from the High Court in Banjul to the High Court in Mansakonko, and they were duly informed and were also aware that the only other judge who has experience to handle criminal cases, other than the trial judge whom you asked to recuse himself, is the judge in Mansakonko.
You conceded that I have no power to transfer a case filed in the High Court to the Magistrate Court. They were also aware and were duly informed that public transporters were already avoiding coming to Banjul because of security check points and traffic congestion that developed on the Banjul road during that period. Mansakonko has brand new grade A road and is less than two hours drive from the Greater Banjul Area. I cannot understand why lawyers would say Mansakonko is far when litigants and witnesses have been coming to Banjul from Basse or Bansang or Janjangbureh over the years before we started the current decentralization program which you have been participating in until this allegation. Why do you now think that the accused persons will not get fair trial because their case was transferred by the exigencies of the time to a distance of less than two hours drive and all of you have cars?
Regarding the amended rules of the Supreme Court:
The amended New Rules requires that leave be obtained before a decision of the Supreme Court Bench of Five Justices is subjected to Review by a panel of Seven Supreme Court Justices, this amendment has its origin in the spate of decisions delivered by the 2014 sessions of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Chowhan. The then President of the Bar, with others, was part of the process that led to the relevant Gazette that was forwarded by the then Director of Legal Drafting to Justice Chowhan for his endorsement before his sudden departure and before I assume office.
How has that amendment become my cross? If the agitation for “leave”, that started from your members and the discussions, deliberations and decision taken, even before my appointment, have been overtaken by events or the amendment is no longer desirable, why is the Gazette not taken before the court for it to be quashed or for ultra vires reason?. Why raking up allegations against me simply because the Bar has a political difference with the Government of the day when all civil servants are required to serve the government on seat and transfer the same loyalty and allegiance to any successor government?
You also alleged that I was attending all APRC Political Rallies:
You all know that I am not a member of the APRC or any other political party in the Gambia. You all know that I ascended to each of the offices I was appointed into from State Counsel to DPP and from Judge of the High Court to the Office of Chief Justice of The Gambia not based on party patronage or any other extraneous basis. My records and my colleagues including yourselves are alive to attest to that.
You all also know that I enjoy the privacy of simply being a judge even though by the circumstances of my office, I must as a matter of protocol attend all state functions as the head of an arm of Government you have not listed all the Political Rallies and dates and venues for the world to see. You were certainly not correct to call State Functions political rallies of the APRC.
You accused me of being “in front of the court premises waving and dancing in support of the incumbent President” on his nomination date. Should I not have been at the IEC Nomination Centre if I am indeed a member of the APRC?
You alleged that I was distributing and wearing APRC materials;
Even though your allegations after it was read on the radio led to a spate of repeated telephone and text messages insults and death threats to me and my family members, you did not mention any name of the “several members of the Bar” who allegedly saw me “wearing APRC apparel on the court premises” or list any name of “Court staff I distributed APRC apparel to” or the details of the “victory celebration preparations I was making for the incumbent President” as alleged. I never wore or distributed APRC materials because that is not one of my functions.
It is not part of me to join issues with my friends because two wrongs will never make a right, but for expediency purposes, seeing that one of your grievances is that I did not respond to a letter written to me even after you have come in person and the issues have been resolved to the satisfaction of all the parties, I am inclined to respond and to let you know that I have nor reason to resign as demanded by you or for the reasons alleged in your letter because your allegations are untrue and baseless.
I have also been encouraged to reply to your letter in the hope the prayers for effective dialogue, unity and peace of the Gambia will have a place in your hearts. The rest I leave in the hand of the Almighty God, who is the just rewarder of all the actions and intents of every man and woman, to reward each and every one of you and me for our different roles and works. Amen.
Emmanuel O. Fagbenle
Chief Justice – Republic of The Gambia