Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – The ‘felony larceny rule’ has been the bane of criminal law in the Gambia for a very long time. It is arbitrary, inflexible and limits the discretionary power of a magistrate so that his/her hands are tied. It needs to be at the forefront of criminal justice reform.

The Gambia need an alternate system of justice, for instance, we could have some jury system where common law-abiding citizens are called upon to participate in court cases. If well selected, the jury may be more sympathetic, fair and administer justice according to the societal norms.

Here’s why I’m beginning to wonder about this so-called rule of law. I talk about three men in Kiaf village who were sentenced to twelve years imprisonment with hard labor few years ago for stealing three goat’s worth 1500 dalasi. The goats were recovered by the Mansa Konko police station. Gambian’ reactions: “was it robbery with violence?” or “the law is an ass.”

I don’t care what law it was or whether the law is a donkey or someone’s rear. Is there no such a thing as common sense to tell someone that charging people with a capital, felonious offence, or sentencing men to twelve years for goats that they didn’t even go away with, is plain ridiculous? And I don’t believe that people’s hands are tied. There’s such a phrase as “eff the system” and doing what you should do, and living with the consequences.

Someone needs to break down for us why Gambians have this mystical worship of the law, yet we have a constitution that starts with WE THE PEOPLE OF THE GAMBIA. That phrase is there for a reason.

Have we created a society where poverty is criminal and wealth is godly? A legal system where the wealthy are never guilty and the poor condemned on appearance? Where Kids from poor neighborhoods get arrested for loitering when picking groceries whilst the rich drive drunk and carry guns?

We truly live in confusing times. For a long while we were informed we should be a state governed and managed by the rule of law and we should be law abiding citizen if we desire peace and stability. To disregard the law leads to impunity a slippery slope to chaos and instability. Now we are being asked to pick and choose which laws we should obey as some laws are unjust and we should not sacrifice justice for peace. Now these laws were enacted by lawmakers elected by the same people who depending on the political climate are been bounced between obeying and disobeying…. truly confusing times.

The author is founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and is the author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013.