Justice Zainab Jawara Alami shares her experiences as a female judge

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Justice Zainab Jawara Alami

Justice Zainab Jawara Alami

Can you introduce yourself – what kind of judge are you, what is your speciality and where are you based?

My name is Zainab Jawara Alami, I am Judge of the High Court, Based in Banjul, The Gambia. I was called to the to the Bar of England and Wales (Inner Temple) and the Gambia Bar in 2000. My specialty would be in commercial law and Alternative Dispute Resolution; however, our courts are currently not specialised and so I deal with all kinds of cases such as, criminal cases, commercial, land and miscellaneous matters.

How do you work with the UK judiciary?

In July 2018 with the assistance of roles UK in collaboration with the Standing International forum of Commercial Courts (SIFFoC), I was nominated by the  Chief Justice of The Gambia, to participate in the judicial observation programme visit to the commercial courts of the UK and a subsequent participation at the 2nd SIFFoC conference in New York in September 2018. Subsequent to this, the Judiciary of The Gambia and the Judiciary of England and Wales have developed an invaluable partnership and have through the UK judicial College sent resources to train my Judiciary on a week long training of Magistrates on case management, judicial ethics, and training of trainers. With the assistance of the UK Judiciary, my Judiciary started a project to develop sentencing guidelines. development of the theft and assault sentencing guidelines.

The two countries  have old and established ties and as such a large number of Gambians studied in the UK before the establishment of The Gambia Law school in 2012.

How did you become interested in the law and what has been your career progression?

I was an avid reader as a child and I had a natural affinity towards social sciences, naturally I went on to read law and found my calling.

My career progression has been starting off as a State Counsel with the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Justice in criminal prosecution briefly and civil litigation where I spent six years and rose through the ranks to Principal State Counsel and Curator of Intestate Estates. I spent the next ten years of my career as the Head of Legal with the Gambia Revenue Authority and practiced purely taxation and international Trade law. I joined the Bench of the High Court in 2017.

Did you face any obstacles to becoming a judge in your country?

I did not face any obstacle in becoming a judge. Having just come out of 22 years of a brutal dictatorship, one of the tasks of the new democracy was to strengthen important institutions such as the Judiciary. To this end, there was a call for judges in the Judiciary and I was one of the people that answered the call, wanting to be part of the change.

What are the best things about being a judge?

The independence to adjudicate on cases without any interference. I enjoy the vast array of cases and issues that come before me making it necessary to continuously research new areas of the law, which is intellectually stimulating. I get to meet interesting people in court and get immense satisfaction in doing justice between the parties.

How do your friends/family feel about you being a judge?

Family members and friends are very proud of me. My friends at the bar have become very respectful now and would let me win arguments, which is quite funny. I get called My Lady so much that I miss hearing my name.

How do you think things have progressed for women in the judiciary since you became a judge?

Currently women make up 80% of the Bench in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. I would say that my judiciary is a very progressive one when it comes to women on the Bench

It has been a long and hard road for women all over the world in terms of having equal status to men in society and in the work place. Women’s day celebrates the achievements of women and it recognises how far we have come, the struggle continues as woman still face discrimination and gender based violence but it is wonderful to celebrate women for a whole month in every year, and it is a month to raise awareness in terms of gender parity

Have there been any woman who have inspired you throughout your life/career?

I would say the women in my family. My mother and my big sister. My mother raised eight of us and ensured that we were all educated with first degrees and then master’s degrees. My big sister set the pace of what we had to achieve, she had a master’s degree and the rest of us had to follow suit.

 What does being a woman in the judiciary mean to you?

Being a female judge allows me to pursue a career on the bench and raise a family. The courts vacation allow us to spend time with our families and recharge for the hard work ahead. It is a big responsibility that I do not take for granted. It is challenging but it is quite rewarding when young female lawyers can look up to me and know that they can also join the bench and raise families.