ROLE UK recently supported a Magistrates Training Programme in Banjul, the capital of Gambia. A UK delegation together with the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges Association (CMJA), spent five days in January 2019 providing technical assistance and training on case management, judicial ethics, judgment writing, and sentencing guidelines to Gambian Magistrates. Following The Gambia’s recent democratic election in December 2016 and a subsequent UK-Gambian partnership, this highly successful training resulted in a set of guidelines for theft sentencing – the first of its kind in The Gambia.
Magistrates in The Gambia have recognisable limited opportunities for training, many of them coming straight from law school with only a few days observation before reaching the bench. This has caused a large disparity in sentences delivered, leading to miscarriages of justice and a large back log of appeals.
The Magistrates Training Programme was highly successful in delivering valuable training to these magistrates to develop their skills and capabilities in delivering justice. On the first day alone, there was full attendance by the entire judiciary of The Gambia, as well as key senior members of the local legal community. This is a highly promising indication of The Gambia’s willingness to work in partnership to make this change happen. Before the training began, the programme kicked off with a ceremony where 40 boxes of legal reference books for the library at the High Court in Banjul were gratefully accepted by Chief Justice Jallow.
The training attracted press coverage and celebratory acknowledgement within both The Gambia and the UK, via QTV Gambia news, and the British High Commission; both countries expressing their support and excitement towards strengthening this partnership and future projects.
The following days were comprised of various training modules for the entire Gambian magistracy, of which there were about 35 over three days. Topics including civil and criminal case management, judicial independence and ethics, Coroner enquiries, judgment writing and decision making were all discussed via presentations, group work and feedback sessions. The presentations and sessions were delivered by various members of the UK judicial delegation, including Mr Justice Robin Knowles CBE, Karen Brewer, Secretary General of the CMJA and HHJ Martin Picton; as well as members of the Gambian Judiciary, such as Justice Raymond Sock JSC and Justice Amina Saho Ceesay J.
On the fourth and fifth days of the programme, an induction course for new magistrates was developed, and a sentencing guideline for theft was drafted, at the request of Chief Justice Jallow. The induction course will be rolled out by the Gambian Judicial Training Institute soon; and the imminent implementation of the theft sentencing guideline will be the first of its kind in The Gambia.