Honourable Amina Saho Ceesay is a Justice of the Court of Appeal of The Gambia. Justice Saho Ceesay is a career judicial officer who has previously served as Magistrate, Master, and Judge of The High Court. She served as a member of the General Legal Council, a member of the said body’s Disciplinary Committee, and chaired its Governing Committee for Legal Education. She is also a lecturer of the Advocacy Skills Course at The Gambia Law School and served as its Overseer Director General.
I was given a range of topics to write on, all gravitating inter alia around the obstacles women judges face in carrying out or advancing judicial careers. I, however, found myself pondering and ruminating over penning a few words. Then the questions started emerging from nowhere. Why was I querying myself? Why the catechism of sorts? The answer was simple, one that should have become obvious almost immediately; women predominate the Superior Courts of The Gambia at a ratio of 4:3 vis-à-vis men. Ergo, the Judiciary of The Gambia has recorded laudable progress in the quest for gender parity.
I believe the next obvious question is, how did we get there? The journey was not a mean feat. Historically, foreign judges manned the Judiciary of The Gambia, the plurality of whom were sent under technical assistance programs via the benevolence of other sister common law jurisdictions. Whilst The Gambia's first indigenous lawyer was called to Bar at the Inner Temple in 1897, its first female lawyer was only enrolled to practice the law some eight or so decades later in 1979. The first woman judge was not appointed until on or about 1993.
Competent male lawyers have increasingly shunned taking up judicial appointments, given that the conditions of service at the Judiciary are incomparable to the gains in the private practice of the law. On the adversative, more women have answered the call of national duty. The primary consideration, I believe, is that in any country, the Judicature is the substratum of democracy and the rule of law. The Judicature provides a parapet, palisade, or vallum to the public against any encroachments on rights and freedoms under the law when all other protections fail. It is the last bastion of hope for the citizenry when they believe their rights have been or are about to be violated or infringed.
Notwithstanding our significant accomplishments, in their quest for gender equality, numerous impediments have been placed on the path of women judges that makes climbing Mount Everest a cinch.
During authoritarian rule in The Gambia between 1994-2016, indigene Women Judges were increasingly subject to constructive dismissals, dismissals from service without cause and even prosecution. In some cases, the underlying motive was their stance to uphold the rule of law or perhaps they were too independent in the eyes of the establishment at that time. Their counterparts from other jurisdictions with the same traits were subject to the non-renewal of their contracts or had to flee the jurisdiction for fear of their safety. It is also believed that, in some cases, the revulsion of women in power positions contributed to their purging.
The forgoing vicissitudes notwithstanding, women judges continue to serve with integrity and dignity and the determination to uphold the rule of law, come what may. They are at the forefront of the administration of justice, lubricating the wheels of the machinery of justice under extreme circumstances with professionalism and progressive foresight. Women judges embody the truism that often, the deepest pain, empowers you to grow into your highest self. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, they are resolute and committed to promoting the rule of law and good governance for the greater good.