Friday, October 3, 2014

Gambia : A broken judiciary

Old Banjul  Magistrate Court 
Just as the Old Banjul Magistrate Court building (pictured here) has been left to rot, the Gambian judiciary is equally rotten to the core.

While the former is rotting out of neglect, the former is crumbling under it own weight because of its persistent abuse by a dictatorship that sees the judiciary as an integral part of the regime's repressive machinery.

Since you are guilty in the eyes of Yaya Jammeh until proven otherwise, the accused is always at the mercy of Yaya Jammeh and not the court.  He routinely dictates to magistrates and judges the desired outcome of cases, most of which are political in nature despite the economic and criminal nature that these cases are framed.  Most "economic crimes" in The Gambian court system, by design, are political.

The abuse of the court system has reached a crescendo when magistrates are rebelling but freeing falsely accused victims of the dictatorship and discharging cases at a higher rate than usual.  Magistrates have begun admonishing prosecution for refusing to report to the courts on time, and providing ridiculous excuses for prosecution witnesses that are coached, and frequently encouraged, to absent themselves from court as a means of delaying cases.

Outstanding cases in the court system is on the increase because of the delay in dispensing justice has reached astronomical levels resulting in innocent Gambians, and non-Gambians alike, languishing in jail, in the hands of the notorious National Intelligence Agency or being subjected to reporting on a daily basis to the nearest police station.

The wheels of justice have grinded to a halt because of the huge number of persons in the system for the most frivolous of charges.  The venerable retired 80-year old Imam is in court because he led the Eid prayers on a day that the Gambian dictator did not approve of, and because the cleric defied Jammeh, he was hauled to court where he still is defending his right to lead his followers to prayers.  This was almost two months ago.

Bundung Magistrate Pierrette M. Sarre has finally said what has been in the minds of many ordinary Gambians when she was dispensing of a case in her court by describing the criminal justice system as being "accusatorial and not inquisitorial".  It follows, Magistrate Sarre argues, "that those saddled with the responsibility of accusing others of a crime must leave the evidence bare for all to see."