The President HE Adama Barrow on Sunday 5th February, 2023 presided over the official opening of Legal Year 2023 at a grand ceremony held at the Superior Courts Complex in Banjul. The Legal year is a tradition for the justice sector whose celebrations date back to 1982, pioneered by legal luminary Edrissa Fafa Mbaye. The annual event is spearheaded by the Judiciary of The Gambia.

Legal Year celebrations avails judicial officers and stakeholders in the justice sector the opportunity to take stock of accomplishments, challenges and chat a way forward for the fair and timely dispensation of justice.

In his opening address, the President of The Republic of The Gambia Mr Adama Barrow outlined the various strides taken by government to uphold good governance, democracy and the rule of law. He cited government’s consideration of the White Paper on the findings of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). He added that government is duty-bound to implementing the White Paper in a transparent manner.

The President observed “….that the prosecution of crimes, such as torture, enforced disappearances, and crimes against humanity, are not specifically provided for under Gambian law. To deliver justice, therefore, we propose to develop a special judicial framework and create a hybrid court to try perpetrators whose offenses amount to international crimes. We will pursue this in agreement with our obligation under customary international law.”

President Barrow disclosed that in order to address the welfare of the justice sector personnel, Cabinet recently approved the long-awaited Judicial Officers Remuneration and other Entitlements Bill. This, he added will lead to the first-ever legislation to regulate and protect the conditions of service of Judicial Officers, particularly Judges of the Superior Courts. “Also granted Cabinet approval is the Legal Practitioners’ Amendment Bill. The Bill has provisions to guide the General Legal Counsel on free legal services for needy persons, as well as strengthening the regulation of legal practice’’, the president added.

The Gambian leader acknowledged that the Judiciary has, under the leadership of the Honorable Chief Justice, Hassan B. Jallow, registered tremendous achievements since the beginning of the transitional justice process. He assured the Gambian people of a new constitution for the country.

In his statement, His Lordship the Honorable Chief Justice of The Gambia Hassan B Jallow disclosed “In the year 2022, a total number of 11,568 new cases were filed across all the courts from the Supreme Court to the Subordinate Courts – the Magistrates, Cadi Courts, Children’s Courts as well as the Specialized Tribunals. This represents a significant increase of 30% on the 8882 cases for the year 2021. In 2022, the courts were able to dispose of a total of 6,800 cases representing 58% of the workload and an increase of 1,978 on the total of 4822 cases disposed of in 2021.”

The Chief Justice congratulated the judicial officers and their staff for this commendable achievement under challenging conditions as well as members of the Bar and indeed litigants and witnesses who have contributed to this achievement. The Hon Chief Justice speedy resolution of land disputes is critical, citing the rising number of land dispute case in the Gambia. He expressed the need for the State to establish a well resourced Land and /Commercial Disputes Court as envisaged by the Judiciary Strategic Plan.

He expressed gratitude to all partners of the judiciary for their support to ensuring an improved delivery of justice. He called on judges and magistrates as well as all stakeholders in the justice delivery sector to ensure justice is delivered in a timely and efficient manner.

He spoke of plans to set up a Judiciary Prisons Visiting Committee which will be mandated to visit and audit the remand wings of the prisons and also cases of prisoners on appeal every six months and to report to the Chief Justice on instances of prolonged detention and recommend remedial measures accordingly. This, he said, assists in ensuring that accused persons do not linger in prolonged custody without being brought to court.

On infrastructural development, the Hon Chief Justice said “the past year has witnessed the renovation and rehabilitation of existing court structures country wide including Basse, Bansang, Mansakonko, Brikama and Kanifing.

“The completion of the new Law Courts building commenced in Bundung two years ago will provide additional courtroom space for High Courts, Magistrates courts and Cadis courts. Entirely funded by the government is a very significant contribution by the government to the implementation of the Strategic Plan.” The Chief Justice however noted that the demand for more courtrooms, office space and specialized buildings remains.

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dawda Jallow said his ministry has been providing indispensable legal services in promoting and protecting the Rule of Law, justice delivery and good governance in The Gambia. He affirmed that his ministry has made significant progress for the effective implementation of the Government White Paper to ensure that the Rule of Law prevails.

The President of the Gambia Bar Association Mr Salieu Taal said the demand for justice through the courts has increased since 2017 fuelled by the public’s expectation of impartial justice following the democratic transition. He emphasized the need for a new constitution for The Gambia.

The Legal Year refers to the period during which Courts are in session and are available to hear and decide cases. Series of activities form part of Legal Year celebrations including conferences, capacity building events among others.