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These courts are popularly called Subordinate Courts. They were first established under the Courts Act Cap 6:01 Vol.II Laws of The Gambia. In S.2 therein the term “Subordinate Court” is defined to mean a Court established under S.14 of the Act which is Subordinate to the Supreme (now High) Court. The Court was first established in the City of Banjul and in every Division of The Gambia by S.14(1) of the Courts Act as a Court Subordinate to the High Court. S.14(2) of the Courts Act gives the Chief Justice the power with the concurrence of the President, to establish other Subordinate Courts to exercise jurisdiction in the Gambia. This is to enable the Chief Justice establish more Subordinate Courts as the need arises.
A Subordinate Court shall be deemed to be duly constituted when it is presided over by one Magistrate lawfully empowered to adjudicate therein. This is expressly and specifically stated in S.14(3) of the Courts Act. See also S.14(1) and 14(2) of the Act. There is nothing in the Constitution, Courts Act and Subordinate Courts (Civil Proceedings) Act specifying any special qualifications for holders of that office of magistrate. S.17(2) of the Courts act provides that “any person may be appointed a first, second or third class magistrate in any one or more Subordinate Courts of The Gambia in accordance with the provisions of S.100 of the 1970 Constitution, the Constitution in force then. It is now replaced by S.146(1) and (2) of the 1997 Constitution.
It is important to resolve the question of the appropriate name this level of Courts should bear. Is it Subordinate Court as used in S.2 of the Subordinates Act or is it Magistrates Court as used in the Constitution.
S.12(1)(b) of the 1997 constitution uses the term ‘Magistrates Court”. Since the constitution is supreme, the Courts Act must be read in such a manner as to bring it into conformity with the constitution as required by S.6(1) of the Transitional and Consequential Provisions of Schedule 2 of the constitution. See I.E.C. V Attorney General. Going by the constitution, the name of the court is magistrates court .