Former Gambian High Court Judge narrates somber experience with judicial interference

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West Africa Review © ISSN: 1525-4488 Issue 15 (2009)

WALKING THE LINE OF JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE: THE CASE OF GAMBIAN GOVERNMENT AND MORAL INTEGRITY

Nkemdilim Amelia Izuako*

Abstract

The article narrates what transpired after Justice Izuako gave a minority judgment in Gambia, rejecting the State’s argument and challenging its attempt to use the judiciary to stifle political opponents. The government retaliated by levelling charges of professional incompetence and misconduct against her,and terminating her services. Her 2005 dissenting judgment on the sedition case immediately follows. Keywords: sedition, gambia, judiciary, judicial independence It is one thing to pontificate on the virtues of judicial independence and judicial impartiality in a society where there is rule of law.

It is quite another matter to walk that line in a country ruled by a dictator accustomed to having all his wishes fulfilled. How should judges deal with such interferences in their courts? How can they do so successfully knowing that their livelihood, career, freedom, family’s well-being, and sometimes their life depend on compromising the principles of independence? These are profound moral questions that judges in Africa face as they strive to balance their moral integrity and the well-being of their families. It does not matter if a judge is female or male, the costs of executive displeasure can be awesome.

I had faced this issue in Nigeria, as the governor of my State sought to influence the verdict of a case in my court, specifically Okey Muo Aroh & anor v Uche Ilobi & 5 Others, (2001) HID/176/2001, Idemili High Court, Ogidi. I refused (Otteh 2003 a,b). After eighteen months of out running the assassins sent to dispatch me (Edemodu 2001; Ige 2001), I was advised by Amnesty International to leave the country if I wanted to live. I did so, and that was how I ended up in the Gambia nearly one year later as a Commonwealth Judge, but the *Nkemdilim Amelia Izuako, first female Pusine judge of the High Court of Solomon Islands, was appointed in 2008. Prior to the appointment, Justice Izuako served as a High Court judge in the Gambia and as an acting judge of the Gambia Court of Appeal for the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC). Before CFTC, she held office as a High Court judge in Anambra State in Nigeria. She has had over two decades of experience in labor and administrative law matters. In the area of teaching, she was a law lecturer in Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria and in the Gambia Technical Institute.

© Africa Resource Center, Inc. Publisher, 2009

WALKING THE LINE OF JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE 45 travails of judicial independence reared up its head again in the Gambia. Amnesty International’s report Gambia: Fear Rules (2008) provides a comprehensive explanation of why such travails occurred. The following is a narrative of events that transpired after I gave a minority judgment rebuffing the State’s attempt to use the judiciary to quash the political opposition. This judgment in the appeal case, Halifa Sallah, Hamat Bah, and Omar Jallow (Appellants) v The State (Respondent) Consolidated Criminal Appeals 4/05 & 5/05, rejected the core of the State’s argument. In refusing to renew my appointment, the government effectively terminated my services. In addition, the government also leveled charges of professional incompetence and improper relations with lawyers against me.

These were publicly disseminated as reasons for my departure. The following is an account of my defense, which I had submitted to the investigative panel of the International Bar Association, to refute the charges against me. Immediately following, is my 2005 dissenting judgment on the sedition case. Improperly Close Relations with Lawyers My tour of duty in the Gambia started on January 17, 2004 when I arrived the country for the first time. On the 09 February, I was sworn in as a. judge of the High court. At a vale – dictory session about two weeks later, I was introduced to the Bar. During the short reception that followed, individual lawyers came up to me to congratulate me and wish me a happy stay in the Gambia. Mrs. Denton, a Gambian lawyer, came up to me and when I remarked that she looked familiar, reminded me that we were both at the university together in Nigeria although she was in the class two years below mine.

Throughout my stay in the Gambia, I had an excellent relationship with lawyers. Knowing from experience that my work in judging would be made, easier when there was mutual respect between lawyers and me, I instructed my staff that lawyers must not be turned away or kept waiting when they wanted to see me. I also maintained a cordial, friendly but professional relationship with them. I am aware that relations between the Bar and certain judges were badly strained sometimes leading to petitions being written against the said judge or lawyers boycotting their courts. In fact when in May 2005, a petition was written against another judge, the executive of the Bar association insisted that I be present in the office of the Chief Justice when reconciliation was being discussed. Occasionally, Mrs. Denton dropped by in chambers after my day’s sitting to greet me. She wanted to know that I had settled in nicely and that I was well. Sometimes she would call me on the phone when there was a general problem to know how I was coping. For instance, when there was severe scarcity of cooking gas in the country, she called to ask if I needed cooking gas as she knew someone who could sell a cylinder to me. She never ever came to visit me at home and I did not know her home either. On one occasion in 2004 when Mrs. Denton called me on the phone, another colleague of mine Justice M. A. Paul was with me. He quickly warned that I must avoid her because Read the Full Write up Here

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