The Legal Practitioners Bill 2015 was enacted along with The Gambia Law School Bill 2015. Tabled by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mama Fatima Singhateh last week, the bill requires would-be legal practitioners to be attached to a lawyer with 10 years of experience after completing a five-year university education. Without fulfilling this criteria, graduated law students cannot be called to the Bar.
Madam Singhateh defended the new law, saying it was necessitated by many changes in the country, including the establishment of law school at the University of The Gambia.
“It goes without saying that in order to ensure a high standard of legal practice is attained and maintained in The Gambia, there is an urgent need to reconfigure the law governing legal practice in The Gambia hence the presentation of this bill before the national assembly members,” she said, adding that the new law also sets standards for non-Gambian legal practitioners in the government service.
A nominated deputy, Seedy Njie, jumped to endorse the bill. But the Minority Leader cautioned that five years of attachment is too long. Hon. Samba Jallow also wanted protection for graduated law students from being rejected for attachment. He said there should be guarantee that every graduated law student is successful.
In a rather unusual show of solidarity, the ruling APRC deputies sided with their opposition colleague by amending the bill before it was passed. The attachment period was reduced to three years.
Madam Singhateh believed the enacted bill would put the law school on a sound footing so that gains can be strengthened.
“With the passing of this bill, the law school would be weaned from the Ministry of Justice and begin operation as a parastatal in terms of its governance and accountability,” Madam Singhateh told deputies. “It will appoint full time staff with its own scheme of service and report to the Public Accounts Committee/Public Enterprises Committee of the National Assembly.”
But an erudite political and social commentator said the new law is “simply an extension of Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship.” Burama Sanneh, a resource person on Kairo Radio’s weekly Bitilo programme said “Dictator Jammeh is intimidated by the influx of Gambian legal practitioners which is why he wants to pin them down. The new law will give him [Jammeh] the opportunity to infiltrate our judiciary with foreign mercenary judges who will serve only Yahya Jammeh’s interest.”