Alagi Yorro Jallow

Politics MUST stop being about nonsense and distraction and become about the people’s business, especially the management and operation of all the systems and authorities of the country, if we are to really have any hope of being a functional nation where people can live out their lives in peace and harmony.

Every Gambian must remain committed to redevelop our country to ensure it operates with a plan and a purpose at all levels and in all spheres of public endeavor. Both laypeople and professionals in their respective disciplines must chart an achievable course to make the Gambia into the paradise it has the potential to be.

The Gambia’s Founding Fathers chose a Constitutional Republic as the governmental system because they wanted the rule of law in our nation. They wanted one law for all, so that the rich, the mighty and the despots would not be able to escape justice; so that the poor, the weak and the lessor in society would have the same justice as all citizens. Dictatorship opens the door for the very chicanery we have seen with two sets of laws: one for the privileged and one for everybody else.

The Biblical principle behind the rule of law is God’s way to hold society accountable and provide individual protection. Moses established a system of courts to hear the people’s grievances and judge them according to God’s laws, which does not change.

Democracy, in its purest form, allows the law to be a moving target, changing with the whims of the people or those in charge of the people. This is how we have arrived at such a spot in our justice system. The beauty of the rule of law is that people are not above it.

How can we talk about the abysmally low detection rate by police, but fail to recognize that our system of justice cannot even handle hundreds of cases? What would happen if the police or justice system moved from the low single digits into a realm where detection that leads to arrest is swift and sure?
What has happened to all those additional hundreds of criminal and civil cases, in a nation that took 22 years to find a person guilty of robbing a store in Farafenni and sixteen years to prosecute a police officer guilty of raping a young girl in Brikamaba not to mention the security officer who raped a school girl at Bakau.

What happens to the administration of justice if a new government comes to power and makes the police service functional and the rule of law a reality?

Gambians must admit that besides everything else that is either collapsing or failing around us, we have a justice system that cannot deliver justice on time, if at all. Besides being worrisome in the extreme, this puts our democracy at risk.

The concept of the rule of law is undermined by a quasi-democracy. And a quasi-democracy is a system governed by the majority or by the mighty rather than a system of set laws. The privileged prevail. We have all witnessed an unelected political appointee admitting legal violations, but making an independent determination to close the case rather than let the legal system play out.

As is well known and is judicially acknowledged, extraordinary delays in criminal prosecutions and the prolonged and protracted court trials of alleged offenders are endemic in the Gambia. In such circumstances, the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” becomes aptly relevant. A fair trial is so important that it is made a constitutional or fundamental right in a democracy.

Speedy justice is one of the important elements of the right to a fair trial, and this should be one of the fundamental principles of any just and sound judicial system. Any unreasonable delay in the prosecution or trial of criminal charges leads to unfairness, not only to the accused but also to the witnesses and lawyers. Excessive delays are especially important to the accused because they may make it almost impossible to defend oneself after a long passage of time.

Another important factor is the credibility and reliability of the witnesses. This has been universally proven in many cases where an unreasonable delay has resulted in witnesses forgetting events and giving contradictory and inconsistent, even improbable, evidence.

Who on behalf of the people in whose name the Constitution says these offices function commands the Judiciary and the Justice System to get their collective house in order?
If no one, tell me again, how exactly is this a democracy?

The expeditious and quality dispensation of justice is a paramount priority of any judicial system. The Gambia is not alone in facing the challenge of delayed justice. Many countries face the problem of delayed and pending court cases. Undue delays in the administration of justice, both in civil and in criminal courts, are tantamount to the denial of justice. Delayed criminal justice, particularly, is repudiation of a fair trial.

Ensuring access to expeditious justice and a speedy trial, both in civil and in criminal matters, is part and parcel of the rule of law.
I put it to the nation that until we are prepared to have conversations about redeveloping our country into one where the people hold the power and the systems work to ensure that democracy prevails, all we will be doing at any future election is rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, while sailing full speed into the looming iceberg of our nation’s demise.