In March 2004, The Judiciary of The Gambia signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) for the funding of the three-year Phase I of the Gambia Legal Capacity Building Programme (LCBP) – 2004-2007.
IHRDA was contracted by DFID to manage the LCBP programme, as well as coordinate the various activities under LCBP. IHRDA served, during LCBP Phase I as project manager. This included acting as intermediary between DFID and the Judiciary, assisting in the planning of workshops and bringing in international human rights perspective to the trainings. IHRDA also participated in the processing of funding requests from various players in the Gambian legal sector. This allowed for much needed flexibility in responding to the changing needs of the programme and the Judiciary as the three-year Phase I project continued.
A smaller part of IHRDA’s role involved providing human rights input to the programme. IHRDA chose to focus on Access to Justice and over time narrowed this down to legal aid.
The intention behind the LCBP is the strengthening of the existing legal system in The Gambia and the introduction of significant but incremental reform in court management and financing, decentralisation and increased accessibility of legal services in the rural areas. The LCBP is especially critical, as it assists with the sustainable development of a strong, independent judiciary.
Objectives of LCBP
LCBP was aimed at meeting the overall goals of ensuring the accessibility, quality of justice and efficiency (and effectiveness) of the Gambian Judicial system for the majority of poor citizens by creating a more efficient and effective professional and administrative staff developed in the Judiciary and the Department of State for Justice. This broad aim was expressed in the following 9 specific objectives:
- Increase the capacity of higher courts to keep case delays to a minimum;
- Improve the throughput, capacity and productivity of superior courts and superior court judges through the adoption of an electronic case management system;
- Improve budgeting performance through the installation and maintenance of a self-accounting financial management system;
- Increase the awareness and ability of judges and magistrates to apply new domestic and international legislation;
- Court registrars and sheriffs more efficiently managing court business and enforcement of judgments;
- Improve morale, professionalism and cohesiveness within the Judiciary;
- Ensure that key officials are better able to carry out their specialist financial and management duties in the Justice Sector;
- Ensure that effective and legally competent police prosecutors are working in the Magistrates’ Courts;
- Ensure that District Tribunals Presiding Panels and staff are able to perform their duties effectively observing the legal framework prescribed.
Year 1 of LCBP Phase I focused extensively on participant workshops that served to expose large numbers of stakeholders to a wide range of topics on judicial reform. In Year 2, the major focus was to increase the amount of in-service training including the training of key personnel who will be able to train their peers at all levels of the judiciary. Year 3 focused on several consultancies, targeted training activities, and refinement of projects begun in the first two years, such as the installation of the Computer Aided Transcription System (CATS) in one of the high courts.
LCBP Phase I achieved in the following areas:
- a remarkable number of activities completed;
- the palpable effects of many of the reforms undertaken by the Judiciary;
- the High Court was dramatically restructured leading to significant improvements in case efficiency;
- the restructuring and other reforms led to greater efficiency, resulting in reducing the backlog of cases;
- even the decisions of the lower courts, especially the magistrates’ courts improved substantially during the programme;
- codes of ethics for the Gambian Bar and Bench respectively were developed and implemented, which greatly improved bench-bar relations;
- additional judges were hired further reducing case backlogs;
- a great deal of training was conducted.
The success of LCBP Phase I was largely due to the flexibility it offered the Gambian Judiciary and other legal stakeholders to tailor the programme to their changing needs.
LCBP Phase II is currently ongoing, though not administered by IHRDA. The successes of LCBP Phase I represent the Gambian Judiciary’s best foot forward in bringing to reality the fundamental human right of access to justice and what can be achieved when there is the will to bring progress. IHRDA is proud to have served as project managers of LCBP I for the Gambian Judiciary.