A total of 18 pioneer students of the Law School of The Gambia were Friday called to the Bar during a colourful ceremony held at the Penchabi Hall of the Paradise Suites Hotel in Kololi.
The occasion was presided over by Her Excellency Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, the vice president and minister of Women's Affairs on behalf of the Gambian leader, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh. The new legal practitioners were the first to be enlisted in the Law School of The Gambia, which was established in October 2011.
Addressing the gathering on behalf of President Jammeh, VP Njie-Saidy recalled that when over a decade ago the president announced his resolve to establish for the first time in the history of the country, an institution of higher learning, some people thought he was merely day dreaming about something impossible to achieve. However, she said with the help of the Almighty Allah, he has been vindicated for "not only do we have the UTG today, but we have today witnessed another historic ceremony marking the first call to the Bar of the first intake of students at the Gambia Law School".
She told the gathering that the Gambia Law School was established in October 2011, as a necessary corollary to the Faculty of Law of the UTG, to provide professional training for those graduates from the Faculty of Law wishing to become barristers and solicitors of the Superior Courts of The Gambia, with the right of audience in all the courts in The Gambia.
VP Njie-Saidy continued: "The establishment of the Gambia Law School was a timely catalyst for significant changes in both administration and dispensation of justice in the country, as it assures us of a pool of highly trained legal practitioners to man our courts and the various offices in the Attorney General Chambers and its allied institutions.
"For too long, we have depended on our sister countries, particularly Nigeria and Ghana, for technical assistance in the administration of justice in our courts and the Attorney General Chambers. We are indeed grateful for the assistance they have given and continue to give to our legal sector, but it is incumbent on us to gradually wean ourselves from our perennial dependence on their goodwill and benevolence.
"We have to create the necessary critical mass of legal professionals to support our development agenda, in tandem with our Vision 2020 and Programme of Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE). To that end, I am happy to note that you the first graduates of the Gambia Law School are already serving as magistrates and at the Attorney General Chambers."
The vice president further stated that from the very beginning, the government of President Jammeh has always given and continues to give priority to three areas of the country's development agenda namely; agriculture, health and education. She said without sustainable growth in these key areas, the attainment for Vision 2020 objectives would be impossible and the quest to become an economic superpower just an illusion.
She recalled that President Jammeh in his New Year message expressed satisfaction with the achievements so far registered in the education sector and noted that the first home-trained legal practitioners have graduated from the Gambia Law School. "This is indeed a notable achievement, which greatly enhances our efforts and bolsters our resolve to provide an ideal socio-economic environment for sustainable growth as articulated in the Gambia's Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE)," VP Njie added.
She pointed out that with more home-trained legal practitioners, justice will become accessible to more Gambians, and "the deleterious effects which prolonged and unresolved disputes have on our economic growth and confidence in the rule of law in general will be significantly reduced, if not eradicated".
VP Njie-Saidy further noted that when people are assured of easy access to justice without being compelled to leave their farms and businesses for long periods of time, they will then be able to contribute more effectively to the maintenance of peace and national development. She assured of government's willingness to continue striving hard in bringing justice to the doorstep of every Gambian and everywhere in the country.
Addressing the new legal practitioners, the VP said: "You who have been called to the Bar today. You should, therefore, always bear in mind that being called to the Bar is not the end in itself. It is rather a means to an end; that end being to render selfless service to The Gambia and all Gambians. This may require a complete change of a mind-set that sees lawyers as mere money-earners. As role models for the nation's youth, the future leaders of the country, your behaviour should be exemplary and your actions guided by strong moral values and the ethics of the legal profession. You are to do justice to all and sundry without fear or favour and in doing so you will earn the respect and admiration of all with whom you interact officially and personally."
She also told them to have it in mind that to earn the respect of others, they must first respect themselves, and be honest and diligent in their dealings with clients, whether the state or individuals. She averred that the bane of the legal profession is a dishonest lawyer or a lawyer who falls foul of the very law he or she is expected to uphold. According to her, the legal profession is too important an entity in society to be allowed to fall victim to greed and parochial interest.
"It is your duty to uphold and defend the dignity of your profession in spite of all the pitfalls you may encounter in your practice. Remember that justice must not only be done, but must manifestly be seen to be done. As you go out into the wide expanse of the legal profession, I urge all of you to let your mantra henceforth be selfless service in the interest of justice," she concluded.
For his part, Lamin Jobarteh, the Attorney General and minister of Justice, described the day as a unique and historic one for the country's legal system. He thanked Allah and the president for making the day possible, especially the provision of legal education and establishment of the Law School of The Gambia. He further expressed gratitude and appreciation to President Jammeh for not only ensuring the creation and establishment of the Faculty of Law at the UTG and the Law School of The Gambia, but also for making the occasion possible through the provision of the sum of D700, 000 for organisation of the event.
The Justice minister remarked that the establishment of the Law School of The Gambia was inline with President Jammeh's informed desire for Gambians to attend from nursery school to university in the country without going abroad, aswas the case with many Gambians like he [Jobarteh] and other Gambians. He also cited the numerous challenges that go with studying abroad. He described the education system at the Law School as quality and delivered by very good judges from various superior courts and lawyers in the country. He advised the new lawyers to be good ambassadors of the legal profession by maintaining the integrity and dignity of the profession.
He further spoke on the measures that need to be put in place by the judiciary and Attorney General's Chamber in ensuring professional conduct, while adding that the increase in the number of foreign students at the Law School is very encouraging.
The Acting Chief Justice of The Gambia and director general of the Gambia Law School, Ramond C. Sock, said the call to the Bar of the 18 students of the Law School is another incremental development for The Gambia, especially its legal system. He said the law school was established in October 2011 and it means among others that, Gambian children can now attend nursery school up to universitywithout stepping outside the country. He described such achievement as very encouraging and appreciative as far as the development of this country is concerned.
Sock stated that President Jammeh has the foresight, mission and vision for all Gambian children to go to school and attain very cost-effective, quality, accessible and affordable higher education. He explained that the Law School absorbed students from the Faculty of Law of the UTG, adding that it is a one-year barrister and solicitor studies in various courses in law.
Alhaji Fafa E. Mbai, a senior private legal practitioner and former Attorney General who was the guest speaker on the occasion, spoke extensively on the importance of the legal profession, the role of lawyers in any given society, the rule of law, human rights of people at family, community, national and international level, the literal application of the law and application of our customs and traditions to maintain the spirit of societal good and sustainable development among others.
He urged the new legal practitioners to always be good ambassadors of the legal profession at all times, recalling his personal experience as a travelling magistrate and legal officer at the AG Chambers among others, leading to the setting up of his private legal chambers.
Edward Singhateh delivered the vote of thanks on behalf of his colleagues. He spoke about his days both at the Faculty of Law and Law School of The Gambia, the extensive reading and hard work they went through, the support given to them by the Gambian leader, lecturers and others. He thanked everyone for making the day a success, especially President Jammeh, founder and chancellor of the UTG.
The occasion was divided into segments inline with the spirit and purpose of celebrating yet another important day in the history of the country's development. The event was characterised by presentation of prizes to the best four students of the first class of the Law School namely Legenju V. Nkeamngong, Eward Sighateh, Dawda A. Jallow and Babucarr Secka.