*By Kalipha MM Mbye
The term ‘legislative supremacy’ suggests that parliament enjoys unfettered, unconditional, and absolute legislative powers. Does the National Assembly of The Gambia enjoy unfettered legislative powers? To examine this question and the parliament’s primary role in the law-making process in The Gambia, it is important to evaluate the legislative power of parliament. According to the constitution of The Gambia, all power and state authority is derived from the people and the constitution. Notwithstanding, section 100 of The Gambia’s Constitution vests in the legislative authority in parliament. Generally, while legislative powers are vested in parliament, those powers are only exercisable in accordance with the limitations imposed by the constitution. In Bribery Commissioner v. Ranasinghes, the court was invited to rule on limitations imposed on the legislative powers of parliament and it observed that: ‘…any bill which does not comply with the condition precedent of the proviso, is and remains, even though it receives the royal assent, invalid and ultra vires.’
The Gambia’s parliament embodies the legislative jurisdiction of the state through bills passed by it and assented to by the president. In theory, presidential assent is required for a bill passed by parliament before it becomes law. Under the 1997 Constitution, this may be interpreted as a ‘ceremonial role’ of the president as he or she is required, within a timeframe to assent to a bill presented to him or her or return it with a comment requesting reconsideration by parliament. Where parliament reconsiders the bill so requested and resolved by votes agreeing to the bill with or without the comments of the president, the bill shall be presented again to the president for assent and the president is compelled by law to assent to the bill within a shorter timeframe. However, in The Gambia, the president has never refused to give assent to a bill passed by parliament. This practically indicates that the legislature is the law-making organ of the state, and the president’s role is more ceremonial and, thus technically has no legislative authority.
Furthermore, the judiciary, through the Supreme Court, may check the legislative competence of parliament, but this does not imply that the judiciary can take away the legislative power from parliament. Rather, it is the constitutional duty of the court to ascertain the compatibility of the laws made by the legislature with the constitution or whether proper procedures were followed as prescribed by the law. This was established in Jammeh v Attorney General, where the Supreme Court struck down an amendment law made by parliament for failing to exhaust the prescribed procedure in the constitution. The court held that the alleged amendment of section 1(1) and paragraph 13 of Schedule II to the 1997 Constitution were made beyond the province of parliament conferred by the constitution and declared that portion of the amendment void. However, the court declined the request to set aside the amendment law in its entirety, arguing that it cannot sever other parts of the law as those were within the province of parliament. Thus, unless its act contradicts the constitution, parliament has a degree of legislative supremacy. Unlike in the UK, parliament’s power over all matters and persons within its jurisdiction is limitless, while in The Gambia, parliament’s legislative powers are controlled. For instance, the Parliament of The Gambia has no mandate to pass a law to establish a one-party or religious state or to revise the judgement of a court in any proceedings to the prejudice of any party to those proceedings or deny retroactively any person of vested or acquired rights.
As highlighted, parliamentary supremacy gives the legislature supreme authority to make or change laws and it cannot be overruled by another organ of the state, in particular the court. For instance, in the UK where this doctrine is generally applied, parliament is the highest source of law and the law is applied by the courts since it is made in accordance with the rules of procedure of parliament. According to Dicey, under the concept of parliamentary supremacy, parliament has ‘[u]nder the English law, the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and, further, that no person or body is recognised by the law of England as having a right to override or set aside a legislation made by parliament.’ This suggests that under the British constitution, no matter how vicious is, or the public outcry is attached to, the law made by parliament, the law remains valid, and the courts are, in theory, obliged to uphold the law. All Acts of Parliament in the UK are regarded as binding on the courts unless repealed or amended by parliament in another Act.
In The Gambia, parliament is subservient to the constitution. The constitution is the supreme law of the land and any law or rule that contradicts it is void to the extent of the inconsistency. This suggests that parliament’s legislative authority is exercisable subject to the constitution. For the UK, the judiciary is subordinate to the will of parliament, unlike The Gambia where the Supreme Court can declare an Act of parliament unconstitutional. Even though the Human Rights Act 1998 of the UK parliament has granted power to the courts to declare legislation incompatible with the Act, it still protects the legislative supremacy of parliament and the court cannot strike down that provision of the legislation in question. In addition, ministers are given powers to make delegated legislation through statute, but Parliament still reserve the right to control each type of delegated legislation.
Legislative supremacy in the UK’s context embodies principles of the absolute legislative power of parliament. As understood and popularised by Dicey in 1885 through his arguments on the sovereignty of parliament, the legislative supremacy of parliament represents the constitutional acceptance that ‘parliament has the right to make or unmake any law whatsoever; and further, that no person or body is recognized by the law as having a right to override or set aside the legislation made by parliament.’ The principle is often characterised by three main features, namely: that one parliament cannot bind its successor; that courts are under a duty to apply legislation passed by parliament even if that legislation appears to be morally or politically wrong; and in some jurisdictions like the UK, the legislation cannot be challenged for unconstitutionality.’ However, in The Gambia, the supreme court in Jammeh v Attorney General, asserted that:
In a country without a written constitution but nonetheless governed by constitutional conventions as in the United Kingdom, the sovereignty and legislative supremacy of parliament is the norm. By this supremacy means that there are no legal limitations upon the legislative competence of parliament. (See Wade & Philips – Constitutional and Administrative Law (9th ed) by AW Bradley on page 57. The editor of this well-established treatise on British constitutional practice cites Dicey as drawing from such supremacy the fact that parliament has under the English constitution the right to make or unmake any law whatever; and further that no person or body is recognised by the Law of England as having a right to override or set aside the legislation of parliament.
In the same vein, the court distinguished the UK and The Gambia by stating that:
In The Gambia, with a written constitution based on the separation of powers, the position is different. Supremacy reposes in the constitution, whether or not such is expressly declared by that instrument and not with parliament or any other organ of state. Section 4 of the 1997 constitution provides for the constitution as the supreme law of the land. It reads as follows: ‘This constitution is the supreme law of The Gambia and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
Furthermore, unlike the Parliament of the UK, which can legislate on any subject, the National Assembly of The Gambia has to exercise its legislative functions subject to the constitution and the limitations imposed by it. Thus, parliamentary supremacy in The Gambia is not absolute but limited by the constitution. The 1997 Constitution of The Gambia limits parliament from passing any law: ‘[t]o establish a one-party state; to establish any religion as a state religion; to alter the decision or judgement of a court in any proceedings to the prejudice of any party to those proceedings, or deprive any person retroactively of vested or acquired rights…’
Procedure of law-making
Parliament generally is empowered to make its own rules of procedure, and how to conduct its proceedings. Essentially, parliament is the master of its own procedure and dictates how its proceedings are conducted unfettered. Furthermore, unless the rule is inconsistent with the constitution or any other law, the courts are restricted to enquire into the ‘decision, order or direction of parliament or any of its committees or the Speaker relating to the Standing Orders of parliament, or to the application or interpretation of Standing Orders, or any act done by parliament or the Speaker under any Standing Orders’. This means that the rules of procedure of parliament and its application are not subject to interpretation or question by any court. Hence, procedurally, parliament is shielded.
However, it is imperative to emphasise that the legislative powers of parliament are procedurally restricted. Based on the constitution and parliament’s own standing orders, parliament must follow certain procedures in exercising its legislative functions. Such procedures are found in sections 101, 108(1), and 226 of the 1997 Constitution. Section 101 describes the mode and the route to be taken in introducing bills in parliament, whilst section 108(1) empowers parliament to make its own standing orders, thereby prescribing and regulating its own law-making procedure. Section 101(4) of the constitution contains further restrictions upon parliament in so far as financial matters are concerned. Hence, it is clear from these constitutional provisions, that parliament is confined in exercising its legislative functions.
Though the British parliament inspires the parliament of The Gambia to a great extent, it must be pointed out that The Gambia’s constitution contains fundamental features which distinguish it from the British system. The prominent peculiarity or feature of The Gambia’s system is the sovereignty of the people and the doctrine of constitutional supremacy. The constitution entrenches the sovereignty of the people and the supremacy of the constitution, from whom and where all state organs derive their legitimacy and related powers to be exercised on the people’s behalf and in accordance with the constitution. Secondly, the parliament’s legislative powers may be reviewed to ascertain its consonance with the constitution. Section 127 grants the Supreme Court the power to decide on whether a law was made intra or ultra-vires. Essentially, in The Gambia, the validity of an Act of parliament can be challenged and struck down by the court if it is inconsistent with the constitution, whilst in the UK the court cannot declare an Act of parliament unconstitutional.
It is conclusive that the legislative powers in The Gambia are vested in the National Assembly, but not absolute, unlike the parliament of the UK which is generally unlimited in its legislative mandate. In the UK, a law made by parliament might be unjust or contrary to the fundamental principles of governance; but parliament is unconstrained, and if it erred, such errors may not be corrected by any other authority but only by itself. The power of the judiciary to question the validity of an Act of Parliament would not necessarily mean a breach of the fundamental principle of legislative supremacy, except the manner in which it is exercised by the court and parliament’s power to legislate. For instance, in the case of Gambia Press Union and others v Attorney General, the court held that when the constitutionality of a legislation is challenged, the Act is presumed to be constitutional unless shown otherwise and that the burden is on the plaintiff.
Finally, it also settled that the independence of parliament is crucial in the discharge of its legislative functions and any attempt to impair this either from the executive or even the judiciary would grossly violate both the letter and spirit of the constitution and undermine parliamentary independence. Based on the letter and spirit of both the 1997 Constitution and the doctrine of separation of powers, parliament is immune and supreme in the execution of its legitimate legislative functions. It is against this backdrop that courts are cautioned not to act in any manner that appears to be judicial legislation as their role is purely interpretative.
 *Kalipha MM Mbye is the Deputy Clerk (Legal and Procedural Matters) at the National Assembly of The Gambia. He holds an LLB degree (Bachelor of Laws) from the University of The Gambia, and an LLM degree (Master of Laws) in International Legal Studies from the University of Bradford, UK. He has his interests in parliamentary democracy, constitutional law, public international law, and the rule of law.
Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this article is entirely that of the author and does not represent the views or opinion of the National Assembly of The Gambia or any institution or person he may be associated with.
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 1
 Denis Kibirige Kawaooya, ‘Act of Parliament: The Role of Parliament in the Legislative Process: A Commonwealth Perspective’ (2010) 12 Eur JL Reform 32
 The Bribery Commissioner v Ranasinghe –  2 All ER 785
 The Bribery Commissioner v Ranasinghe –  2 All ER, at 793
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 100(1)
 Ibid, section 100(1)(5)
 Ibid, section 100(3)
 Ibid, section 100(3)(4)
 Kemeseng Jammeh v Attorney General (2002) AHRLR 72 (GaSC 2001)
 Kemeseng Jammeh v Attorney General (2002) AHRLR 72 (GaSC 2001)
 Erskine May’s treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament, (19th edn, Butterworths)
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 100(2)
 Emily Allbon and Sanmeet Kaur Dua, Elliott and Quinn’s English Legal System (21st edn, Pearson) 2020/2021, p6
 Dicey, A. ‘Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution’ (1982)
 Emily Allbon and Sanmeet Kaur Dua, Elliott and Quinn’s English Legal System (21st edn, Pearson) 2020/2021, p216
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 4
 Emily Allbon and Sanmeet Kaur Dua, Elliott and Quinn’s English Legal System (21st edn, Pearson) 2020/2021, p7
 Erskine May’s treatise on the law, privileges, proceedings and usage of Parliament (25th edn), (2019) accessed online: https://erskinemay.parliament.uk/section/4535/extent-of-legislative-authority-of-parliament/
 T.R.S. Allan ‘Legislative Supremacy and Legislative Intention: Interpretation, Meaning and Authority’ Cambridge Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 3, November 2004, pp. 685-711.
 A.V. Dicey, The Law of the Constitution, cited in A. Bradley ‘The Sovereignty of Parliament – Form or Substance’, in J. Jowell & D. Oliver (Eds.), The Changing Constitution, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2007, p. 29.
 D. Jenkins ‘Common Law Declarations of Unconstitutionality’ IJCL, p188.
 D. Jenkins ‘Common Law Declarations of Unconstitutionality’ IJCL, p183
 Jammeh v Attorney General (2002) AHRLR 72 (GaSC 2001)
 Jammeh v Attorney General (2002) AHRLR 72 (GaSC 2001), pp18
 Ibid, pp21
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 100(2)(a)(b)(c)
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 108(1)
 Ibid, section 108(2)
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, sections 1 and 4
 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia, 1997, section 127(1)(b)
 Erskine May: Parliamentary Practice, (25th edn,) https://erskinemay.parliament.uk/section/4535/extent-of-legislative-authority-of-parliament/ (accessed 05th July, 2021)
 Jonathan L. Black‐Branch, Parliamentary Supremacy or Political Expediency?: The Constitutional Position of the Human Rights Act under British Law, Statute Law Review, Volume 23, Issue 1, 2002, Pages 59–81, https://doi-org.brad.idm.oclc.org/10.1093/slr/23.1.59 (accessed 05th July, 2021)
 Gambia Press Union and others v Attorney General  5 LRC
 ibid, pp21
 Ya Kumba Jaiteh v Clerk and Ors, SC NO: 001/2019 (unreported)