On 11 September 2023, Justice Defenders Country Director of The Gambia Tim Bisong spoke at the Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association (CMJA) conference. Held in Cardiff, UK, more than 400 delegates attended, including judicial officers, judges, magistrates and 30 chief justices.
Since 1970, the CMJA has been working to advance the administration of the law. As the only international judicial association bringing together legal minds at all levels of the judiciary, from more than 60 jurisdictions in the Commonwealth, it provides a forum for promoting the highest judicial standards at all levels.
Having worked in the correctional reform and restorative justice sector as a consultant for 10 years, Tim Bisong now leads our work in The Gambia. Tim’s interactive session, ‘Legal education for unrepresented incarcerated people’, drew on his first-hand experience of incarceration and the impact our trained paralegals are making across The Gambia.
He explained our approach and how legal education for people inside prison not only takes the law to the margins of society to uproot the unjust, but equips the judiciary. Enabling them to make more effective decisions by ensuring that they hear both sides of the story and follow due process. Assisting judges in upholding the principles of fairness and justice, ensuring that each defendant can effectively engage at their hearing.
Tim also shared some of our paralegals' public interest litigation work, successfully challenging indefinite sentencing for people with proven mental health conditions and lengthy mandatory minimum sentences for sexual offences in Kenya which meant previously, judges had no power for discretion when sentencing. He reflects on the collaborative global gathering:
“Having experienced the buzz of last year’s conference in Ghana, where I had the opportunity to be part of a panel at the CMJA, I was honoured to be invited back this year in a greater capacity, to lead an interactive session on legal education.
“The conference provides a unique platform for senior justice officials to collaborate, learn, and strategise on ways to enhance access to justice in their respective nations. It’s not unusual for us to work closely with judges and magistrates, but having so many of the world’s most senior judges and chief justices in the room, all contributing and sharing in our deep commitment to justice was incredible.”
With many participants requesting further insight into Justice Defenders’ radically inclusive model, the conference served as a reminder. When people across the justice system come together in solidarity, remarkable progress can be made towards equal access to justice for all.
Tim will be speaking at the Southern and Eastern African Chief Justice Forum in Arusha, Tanzania on 23 October 2023. He will also be attending the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights NGO Forum in Tanzania on 24 October 2023.