By Kebba Jeffang
Students of the University of The Gambia faculty of Law have strongly urged the members of the National Assembly to disregard the Legal Practitioners Bill 2015 that is to be tabled today, Tuesday, 29 December 28, 2015 by the Minister of Justice. They say it is not in the interest of the students and public.
Such information was shared with the media during a press briefing convened at the law faculty campus yesterday attended by many students as well as practitioners.
The bill if passed into law will among others subject highly trained graduates from the Gambia Law School to an additional one year pupilage before they are eligible to be enrolled as full fledge lawyers or barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court of the Gambia.
The content of the Legal Practitioners’ Bill 2015 states that “subject to subsection (2), a person shall be eligible to apply for admission to practise as a legal practitioner if he or she holds a qualifying certificate.” It further states that a person has to complete one year pupilage with a legal practitioner of at least ten years standing in a common law jurisdiction. Under section 19 of the proposed bill, a legal practitioner shall not open a legal practice of his or own unless he or she has at least five years at the Bar during which he or she has worked as a legal practitioner under a legal practitioner who has at least ten years standing in the bar.
Speaking on this development, Mr. Lamin Kujabie, a graduate of the faculty who awaits his call to the Bar in next month, said the bill if passed will highly affect them as law students who are aiming to start practicing what they have learnt. He noted that young lawyers at the university are well trained and that the move is not serving the interest of the students, public and the future of the law faculty as a whole as the school caliber will be reduced since the products of the university cannot produce people to move on after four years of intense studies.
“We are challenging this as practitioners because it will affect our right to practise in this country. Why is this bill coming now? It is not practised in Ghana, Nigeria, or in the United Kingdom or any common law country then why Gambia? The bill is not in our interest neither public interest but for a few who do not want to see that Gambian legal practitioners take the highest positions that belong to us,” said Kujabie.
He said the Gambia Bar Association is behind the introduction of the bill through the ministry of Justice.
Mr. Mustapha Kah, a law student of UTG said not long ago some of his fellows were denied enrolment which was an issue to them without knowing that the bigger picture is the introduction of this bill was coming.
“The introduction of this bill will stifle the young people and therefore should be reconsidered,” he said.
Mr. Almameh Manga LLB graduate of UTG said it is about time to act now, noting that The Gambia is 50 years old and yet the country is still relying on sister countries for justice dispensation for the Gambia people. He said the faculty has been in existence for several years producing several qualified people including Edward Singhatey who he said are doing well. He said if the bill is passed, foreigners will continue to be the judges in the country and that the students of the University have that status by now.
Mr. Sheriff K. Jobe also awaiting his call to the Bar said the faculty of law was established purposely to train people to become legal practitioners and serve The Gambia. He said the intention of the establishment is to see that the dependency on foreign practitioners is reduced. He said there is no justification for introducing such a bill. He said if they are not given the opportunity, how could they be qualified? He added that the products of the faculty are capable of practising in any common law country. He pointed out the conflict between the two pieces of legislation. He indicated that they will continue to pursue the matter to see that the bill does not become law as it will curtail the right of young practitioners from practising in their own country. He noted that the bill will also demote severely the standard of UTG since the school cannot even graduate its students as readymade for the market.
Mr. Peter Che, a UTG Law student and a Cameroonian national said he has come to The Gambia to study law because of the standard of the university. However he added that this bill if passed will have severe impact since those in Cameroun who want to come over will no longer come due to the standard of the institution.
Meanwhile, the students have appealed to the national assembly members not to pass this bill for the benefit of the Gambian people as well as the standard of the institution. They equally urged the President of the Republic not to assent to the bill should in case NAMs pass it as it will defeat the purpose of freeing the country’s judicial system from being manned by foreign personnel.