Human Rights

Gambian Bar urged to inform citizens on their right

By Yaya Dampha
The need to sensitize Gambians on their rights was the subject of discussion at a gathering which brought together legal practitioners and law students in Gambia, as part of the weeklong UK government funded capacity building project for the Gambia Bar Association. The discussions, which took place on Monday, were centred on issues of self-regulations, standards and ethical values within the legal profession in the country. Self regulation was highlighted as a major challenge with the Gambia Bar Association as there has not been any such body in place within it. In a lecture on Legal Practice and Ethics, Professor Kim Economides, Director of Otago Legal Centre’s Faculty of Law, New Zealand, expressed the need for credibility and trust for the Bar, calling for a regulation and maintenance system as means of ensuring an efficient legal practice in the country. He spoke of the need to have a complaint committee which could be responsible for discipline and regulate ethical values. He also harped on the need to articulate the code of conduct and legal documents for the wider understanding of the public, of their rights and matters of the rule of law. Responding to a question by a fourth year student at the University of the Gambia, who pointed out that 90% of Europeans know their rights as opposed to the case in Africa, Professor Economides throw the challenge back to Gambia lawyers and students of law. He said that the solution is to articulate the legal documents for the wider understanding of the public. And this, he added, could take public legal education through organization of forums and public legal educations. The Professor cited examples in U.K where he said the ethnic minority of the society was educated through similar approach. He advised that the social welfare department could be a strategic approach, as are the law students themselves. Challenging law students and practicing lawyers to take up the issue to the society to inform the people of their rights, the professor pointed out that law students in the UK established the legal system by taking legal services to the society. Professor Economides also suggested the creation of an Act of parliament to control the market. Speaking at the opening on Monday, president of the Gambia Bar Association, Amie Bensuda, said the program, was aimed at providing support to strengthen the Bar and the membership, thereby improving on delivery of legal services to the public. “We thought it essential that, to begin with, we focus on ourselves and our professional needs and that is why the theme of the week is ‘‘legal practice, ethic and advocacy.’’ She went on, “In many jurisdictions throughout the world professionals in every field are expected to keep themselves current on developments in their field, while at the same time improving and upgrading their skills, all the time.’’ The head of the Gambian Bar however lamented that there had not been any kind of structured program in relation to continuous development of their membership. She hoped that the Amie_and_Kimseminar would provide the opportunity to discuss the need for continued legal education, establish a relevant program, hold a frank and useful discussion on legal practice in the country, as well as deliberate on the structures ‘‘we should create to support ourselves meet the challenges which we face including organizational issues in the local environment.”
Opportunity to rethink
Various other legal luminaries who have had impressive imprints on the legal system in The Gambia spoke at the gathering, including Hawa Ceesay-Sabally, who described the event as ‘‘an opportunity to rethink.’’ Mrs Ceesay-Sabally recalled her well noted effort alongside some of her colleagues in ensuring the release of students who were detained during the controversial April 10 and 11 2001 students demonstrations. She also recalled working alongside the Gambia Press Union to have the controversial National Media Commission Bill repealed, which could have dissolved the Gambia’s already diluted media. Lawyer Hawa Ceesay-Sabally however noted that the time had come for the Bar Association to start take up similar approaches, rather than abdicating to individual lawyers. She noted that the constitution has empowered every citizen to challenge any provision regarded unconstitutional, but that it was more advisable and easier for a group to do it than individuals to do. Lawyer Surahata Janneh said the General Legal Council proposed a law school some four years ago, and that even though some efforts had been made and a report developed, the process was halted.  But Lawyer Fafa Mbye spoke of the need to have access to that document, so as to pursue continuation of the process of setting up the much talked about law school in the country. Law students present at the forum also had their say. They observed that some of the statutes in the Gambian constitution are contradictory, with a number of them contradicting the fundamental provisions of the constitution itself. Law students at the University of The Gambia forwarded an appeal to the Bar to help equip the university library.

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