Alagi Yorro Jallow

A good lawyer knows the law. A better lawyer knows the judge.”

If the police routinely take bribes and court officials are for sale to the highest bidder, then justice is put beyond the reach of ordinary people and it becomes impossible to trust the law.

The breakdown of the rule of law is a recipe for anarchy and disorder. Democracy does not mean disorder or the absence of the law, or indeed a disregard of the law. Democracy does not give you a leeway to make you a folly before the state.

The difference between democracy and dictatorship is not the relaxing of the rule of law in the former. The difference between defamation and freedom of expression is not that one is denied such a right in the former but not in the latter. Freedom of expression and assembly are not absolute; in fact, the law protects you more from being turned into a slave than it does from the words you speak.

The rule of law is often difficult to define; however, I am certain that it requires that everyone be subject to the same law. It demands the independence of the judiciary, and it calls for all those accused to be brought before an impartial and independent tribunal and court system. It says that the state provides the mechanism of settling disputes through the court system.

The rule of law calls for the maintenance of public order and security. It espouses the concept of the separation of powers and respect for the law itself.

People often experience a double-whammy: very long cases and, at the end of the long process, a wrong decision. Due process, which used to be defined as a day in court, has become a decade in court.

Justice is denied either through lengthy delays or through the outright sale of decisions. Because of this, the law is no longer seen as a majestic tool for justice, but as a deplorable tool for the powerful to abuse the powerless.

The once honorable profession of law now functions as a bottom-line business, driven by greed and the pursuit of power and wealth, even shaping the laws and public policy of the government outside of the elected representatives. Ever heard the old lawyer’s joke? “A good lawyer knows the law. A better lawyer knows the judge.”

The judiciary is a sacred institution that should not be desecrated by any person; however, there is no sacredness in the corruption and abuse of office. Judges and lawyers must always be treated with the decency and respect befitting of their office. But corrupt judges and lawyers should be identified and treated like any other criminals in our society.

The Gambia is blessed with some of the best judicial brains anywhere in the world, but the nefarious activities of the bad eggs on the bar and bench should never be tolerated under any guise. The reform of the justice system is urgently needed, as it is infected by corruption, fraud, perjury and dishonesty by judges and lawyers who abuse their power. Together, we must restore the faith of our people in our justice system and the rule of law, and our judicial officials should shun the temptations of money and power and instead help address the long delays in the resolution of cases.

Judges are not above the law. Like other public servants, judges living above their means should be able to answer questions from the law enforcement agencies about their sources of income. Their lordships are presumed innocent until proven guilty and they should be given a fair trial and a fair hearing.

Records have shown that judges in other jurisdictions, including the United States, have been arrested, prosecuted and jailed for corruption and other criminal conduct. Ghana recently purged its judiciary and fired judges guilty of corruption and the abuse of office.

If this is the time to uproot the pervasive cancer of corruption in the Gambian judiciary, it is a welcome development and should be supported. Without checks and balances, the doctrine of the separation of powers is useless and unworkable.

Some High Court judges will go down in history along with other “mercenary judges” as a set of corrupt judges who sold the peace and tranquility of the Gambia. It is heartbreaking that our judiciary has been invaded by corrupt, “mercenary” elements and if not checked, our country’s judicial system will be regarded as the most useless, firstly within the region and later the whole world. Look at the United States!

A duly elected president’s decision is challenged by a judge but here in the Gambia – because of corruption, nepotism and unprofessionalism – our judges even connive with their fellow thieves to swindle Gambian money and justice. We all recalled when our Chief Justice and other judicial officers were prosecuted and jailed for corruption and thievery. Lord Chief Justice Phillips once put it, “A judge should value independence above gold, not for his or her own benefit, but because it is of the essence of the rule of law.”

We cannot have different standards of the rule of law: one for the influential and another for the poor, or one for the judges and another for the rest of us. Do not be a part of the problem. Be a part of the solution. When you practice your profession, never allow yourself to be used as a bribe-giver. Reject the reasoning that since the other side is doing it, then you should also be doing it to level the playing field.

Always remember that the end does not justify the means. Just be faithful to the lawyer’s oath. Do no falsehood, do not promote or sue any groundless, false or unlawful suit, nor delay any man for money or malice many Gambians have become victims of lengthy cases, only to receive an erroneous decision.