Dialogue with Mr. Cherno S. Jallow, QC --- Former Attorney General, British Virgin Islands
Friday, March 2, 2012
Cherno S. Jallow, QC
Herewith, we begin a series of interviews with Gambian professionals, who are operating far, far away from the glare of Gambian media. They can be found right there at home or in Tanzania or Eritrea or Afghanistan or in the plush offices of international organizations, quietly but diligently plying their crafts in a host of areas, ranging from sustainable development to international law, financial management to software engineering, political and economic research to post-conflict resolution. Our readers, and indeed, Gambian society as a whole, stand to gain from the breadth of experience of these professionals.
Cherno S. Jallow, QC, is one of them. He is the Director of Policy, Research and Statistics in the Financial Services Commission of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Until his current position, Mr. Jallow was the BVI’s Attorney General for seven and a half years. Previously, he worked in the Gambian Justice Ministry in Banjul. By turns, he became a State Counsel, Assistant Legal Draftsman, Legal Draftsman, Parliamentary Counsel and head of the legislative drafting division. In this exclusive interview with My Basse's editorial board, he talks about his childhood and upbringing, days at the Justice Ministry, the mechanics of legislative drafting, his tenure as the British Virgin Islands’ Attorney General, among other issues. Read on …
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My Basse: Tell us a little bit about yourself: where you were born in The Gambia and what schools you attended.
Cherno S. Jallow: To begin with, I’m a sixties child, born in the village of Old Yundum, Kombo North. My father (deceased in 2007) was from Old Yundum and my mother from Brufut. When my parents decided to register me for school, I was transferred to my grandparents in Brufut since it was quite a distance from Old Yundum to the nearest primary school for me to be walking to and fro each school day. Going to Brufut also afforded me the opportunity to regularly attend Quranic school under the teaching of my grandfather. By the time I got to Primary Five, I had completed reading the entire Qur’an and lent support to my grandfather in guiding other students through with their Quranic reading.
After completing primary school in Brufut, I gained admission to Armitage High School in Georgetown (now officially Janjangbureh) and from there I proceeded to St. Augustine’s High School in Banjul where I did my A’ Levels. I taught for two years at Sukuta Junior Secondary School and then attended the International Islamic University in Malaysia where I pursued an undergraduate degree programme in Law, a programme that combined both the Shariah Law and the ‘modern’ English Law. After University I returned home in 1988 and joined the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel. I subsequently proceeded to the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in Barbados, where I pursued a certificate programme in Legislative Drafting and then returned there in 1992 to pursue a Master’s degree in Legislative Drafting and Public Law which I completed in 1993. I then returned home to my job at the Chambers.
My Basse: What was it like growing up? Any fond memories?
Cherno S. Jallow: I may be called old-fashioned, but when I see how quickly modernized children are becoming these days, it makes me reflect on the days I was growing up and wonder how much they are missing on important aspects of cultural development. I grew up believing that the one thing that we must as a people cherish, the one thing we must not allow anybody to take away from us, is our culture, our way of doing things which is unique to us whether as tribal groups or collectively. So my fond memories essentially revolve around our different tribal drumming and dancing, the “Kankurangs”, “Kumpos” and male circumcision periods which were always special. I enjoyed the fact that almost all children growing up at the time belonged to one traditional Quranic school or another and the ceremonies that followed one’s completion of the entire Qur’an. Those were always proud moments. They enabled us to come together as youths, get to know each other, attend to each other and help each other on the farms. Those friendships nurtured years ago continue to date and we still reminisce about the old days in many proud ways.
My Basse: What was your role at the Gambian Justice Ministry?
Cherno S. Jallow: As I already indicated, I started working at the Ministry of Justice as a State Counsel. In that capacity I was engaged in criminal prosecution and rendering legal advice to Government Ministries and departments. I rose through the ranks, first as Assistant Legal Draftsman and then as Legal Draftsman and eventually as Parliamentary Counsel and head of the legislative drafting division. In these roles my focus changed to legislative drafting and I was involved heavily in the drafting of laws for enactment purposes. While I still retained some civil litigation and prosecution work, more and more those roles lessened.
My Basse: How is legislative drafting done? What is the process like?
Cherno S. Jallow: A draftsman generally drafts Bills on the basis of developed policy and on instruction. The President’s Office and the various Ministries would decide on the policies and the laws they want drafted on a specified measure and instruct the Attorney General accordingly. The latter would then advise his drafting team to undertake the drafting proper. Upon completion of a draft Bill, the Bill would be sent to the instructing Ministry or department for review and comments. The Bill is then finalized and transmitted to the Office or Ministry concerned. From then onwards it is for the responsible Minister to seek Cabinet support and approval of the Bill before being sent to Parliament for enactment purposes. Once the Bill is enacted, it is transmitted to the President for his consideration and assent. However, during the period of military administration this procedure was shelved as the constitutional Parliament had been dissolved. While we continued to receive drafting instructions, the draft legislation was promulgated by decree and therefore only required the signature of the Chairman of the military junta.
My Basse: What was the most challenging part of your work at the Justice Ministry?
Cherno S. Jallow: I think the diverse work I was engaged in was broadly challenging and actively engaged my thoughts. The most challenging period for me was the advent of the military coup in July 1994. The country was faced with a new status we did not contemplate and the question was how best we could help in ensuring continued respect for the rule of law and retaining the human rights chapter of the 1970 Constitution. We debated this in the Chambers and considered the Ghanaian and Nigerian models, but rejected both as too radical and not protective of the rights and freedoms of the people. So I drafted Decree No.1 of 1994 which effectively abolished the 1970 Constitution, save in certain respects which included the human rights chapter and, if memory serves me well, the part on the judiciary. This approach was essentially a compromise position whereby the new status quo would be recognized while at the same time giving credence to the cherished rights and freedoms of the people and ensuring continued recognition of the importance of and respect for the rule of law. This was accepted by the military junta and Decree No. 1 was enacted. Unfortunately, this was not for long, as a foreign team brought in to assist in augmenting capacity to cope with the work load of the time advised that a human rights chapter had no place in a revolution and should therefore be revoked. They were listened to and all our efforts to maintain The Gambia as a beacon of respect for human rights and the rule of law faded. I was so distraught by this and the fact that it appeared that the Gambian legal minds were not being listened to that I refused to draft the amendment to Decree No. 1 to completely abolish the 1970 Constitution in its entirety. To this date I still regret ever having participated in the discussions and endorsed the idea of bringing in a foreign team to assist us with the work load we had to deal with.
My Basse: Do you also have any regrets about drafting Decree No. 1?
Cherno S. Jallow: No, I don’t. You see, one has to understand that back in July 1994 we were faced with the difficult issue of constitutionalism. The constitutionally elected government had been dislodged from power and a new power superimposed on the country. Members of the elected government, including the President, had either fled the country or were arrested and incarcerated. There was a lot of uncertainty and the primary concern for us at the Chambers was how best we could facilitate and ensure stability in our country, being fully aware of what was at stake. A power vacuum in government was not the answer in as much as we regretted the overthrow of the constitutionally constituted government. So we found ourselves in a conundrum, but realized at the same time that as civil servants we had to work hard and advise on how best to resolve the conundrum. We believed we achieved that within the framework of Decree No. 1. In my personal view, the interference with Decree No. 1, especially in relation to the human rights chapter, was the beginning of many problems to come. We had demonstrated excellent leadership within the Chambers headed by Amie Bensouda, the Solicitor General and Ag Attorney General in the aftermath of the coup. We advised to the best of our conscience and training and in the interest of our country, even when that meant some authority not being happy.
My Basse: You are a Queen's Counsel, and your name is often followed by the initials 'QC'. What does it mean to be a Queen's Counsel?
Cherno S. Jallow: The title of Queen’s Counsel or QC, otherwise referred to as Silk because the bearer of the title wears a silk gown, is essentially the highest professional achievement for a legal practitioner; in some countries the title takes the form of Senior Counsel (SC), President’s Counsel (PC), etc. In my case, the title was conferred by Letters Patent issued on behalf of Her Majesty in the United Kingdom. It is conferred in recognition of distinguished service in the legal profession. A QC is given precedence at the Bar. In the simple traditional sense, a QC is required to represent the Crown whenever called upon to do so and does not charge a fee. Of course, that tradition has since modernized and QCs do charge fees for services they render.
My Basse: How did you get interested in Law as a profession?
Cherno S. Jallow: Up until I got to the Sixth Form, I was not really sure of what I wanted to focus on as a career. Close to completing my A’ Levels I started edging towards teaching or law. I taught for a while and decided in the end that law should be a more exciting and challenging career for me. I then pursued my first law degree programme and the rest has been history since then.
My Basse: Having studied Shari'ah Law, what is your view of the Cadi courts in The Gambia? Some people have called them ‘useless’, say, in family estate disputes, since they can be overruled by a higher court.
Cherno S. Jallow: Frankly speaking, I cannot claim to know the structure of the Cadi courts within the current judicial framework as I understand that there have been some reforms in that regard since I exited the system. My view, however, is that a Cadi’s court must be given a clear judicial mandate to adjudicate on specified matters (in an Islamic State that will cover practically everything). Those matters should be appealable to a higher court that is constituted by persons learned and thoroughly knowledgeable in Shari’ah. The higher court may, of course, allow or dismiss appeals or remit matters back to the Cadi’s court. The flaw will occur if the higher court is not properly constituted by the right caliber of trained personnel. I believe that the Cadi’s courts could be made more efficient and effective to properly adjudicate on certain matters and that would decrease the work load on the regular courts.
My Basse: From 1999 to 2007, you served as the British Virgin Islands' Attorney General. How did you land the job?
Cherno S. Jallow: I received an offer around mid-1995 from the BVI Government to take up employment as Parliamentary Counsel. At first I was not really sure I wanted to leave The Gambia for an overseas appointment, more so for the fact that I was at the time engaged in the process of drafting the Election Decree in preparation for the transition to civilian rule and I wanted to complete that process. By the beginning of September 1995 I was edging more towards accepting the appointment offered – the catalyst being the urging of a former Professor of mine who knew the challenges I was facing, especially since the amendment to Decree No. 1.
In October 2005, after I had completed the drafting of the Election Decree, I took up appointment as Parliamentary Counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers of the Government of the BVI. After a while I effectively became the No. 2 officer within the Chambers after the Attorney General. When the-then Attorney General demitted office in October 1999, I was appointed to act in that office. Then in February 2000 I was confirmed in the position.
My Basse: What was the experience like?
Cherno S. Jallow: I was Attorney General for seven and a half years and the experience was very good. I functioned independently in the performance of my duties as Attorney General and politicians knew where the line was drawn in our relationship and we respected each other. It was my role to facilitate the workings of government and lend maximum support to the government of the day and the legislature within the remit of the law, in addition to directing and undertaking prosecutorial matters. The best aspect of my experience as Attorney General was the ability to discharge my responsibilities without political interference; even where my views were differed from, they were nevertheless respected. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have worked with two separate governments that recognized and supported my work as Attorney General. There is great value to national development in having an independent and unbiased office of Attorney General.
My Basse: As a foreigner and being the chief enforcer of the laws of the land, did your nationality become an issue?
Cherno S. Jallow: No. My nationality was never an issue, nor was my religion (the BVI being a predominantly Christian community) or other extraneous matter. I would say that my work and performance as a lawyer was essentially what spoke for me and that was what the Government was interested in.
My Basse: You are now the Director, Policy, Research and Statistics in the British Virgin Islands' Financial Services Commission. What do you do specifically?
Cherno S. Jallow: I do a host of things, but mainly developing policies to strengthen the financial services sector (the major revenue earner for the BVI treasury), reviewing and drafting financial services legislation, negotiating international treaties, representing the BVI before international standard setting and assessment institutions on issues of compliance and supervision and exchange of information, and enhancing the BVI’s international cooperation regime. In addition, my office is responsible for conducting research on pertinent issues affecting or relating to the financial services industry and developing appropriate industry and regulatory statistics. My office also serves as a financial services intelligence unit.
My Basse: From Law to Finance, it must have been a difficult transition. Have you abandoned the legal field?
Cherno S. Jallow: As you can see, I am still very much in the legal arena and active. I’ve just taken on a little more on finance and financial services. I like the cross-breed and I enjoy the work tremendously. It’s not entirely new as I was in some measure involved in financial services activities in my previous capacity as Attorney General.
My Basse: Drug trafficking and money laundering across state lines have grown into a global menace. Do you think international law has got any chance to take out this global problem?
Cherno S. Jallow: You are absolutely right, drug trafficking and money laundering are indeed a global menace. While those who engage in these nefarious activities see value in their criminality, the global law enforcement process and mutual legal assistance mechanisms continue to be relentless in pursuit of these criminals to apprehend them and seize their ill-gotten gains. That is precisely why the Financial Action Task Force Recommendations on money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism are now a global standard in serving as an effective check on financial crime and the laundering of the proceeds of such crime. A combination of treaties, such as the UN Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances, UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and UN Convention against Corruption, aid the process of international cooperation across borders to stem the tide of money laundering, terrorist financing, drug trafficking and other criminal activities. Whether international law will eventually eradicate these types of crime is moot, but I believe that with continued goodwill and cooperation between States to share information and render other forms of assistance (such as training on investigative techniques and the provision of appropriate law enforcement tools) to each other, coupled with a sustained pursuit and seizure of assets that are the proceeds of crime, those engaged in criminality will never enjoy the upper hand; their success will only be transient and they must be relentlessly bitten where it really hurts – denying them the enjoyment of their ill-gotten gains.
My Basse: What are the challenges facing the British Virgin Islands?
Cherno S. Jallow: The recent global financial crisis has had its negative effects on the BVI as has been the case with many other jurisdictions the world over. In situations like that one has to reflect on existing systems and business modalities to establish the need for reform and what those reforms should be. That is what we are going through at the moment and the country is bouncing back with vigour and is still the leading corporate domicile in the world.
My Basse: What, if anything, could Gambian society learn from the Islands? What does your experience tell you?
Cherno S. Jallow: In this world we learn from each other if we are humble enough to recognize our deficiencies and recognize the advances of others from whom we can draw inspiration and solutions. On a general level I am a firm believer in respect for the rule of law and an advocate that government must be the first respecter of the law. If that fails, the law and the enforcers and implementers of the law become the subject of ridicule and disrespect. The consequence is a society bereft of good governance and a recipe for instability in the economic, social and other sectors of the community.
Sometimes I feel, rightly or wrongly, that we Gambians as a people have a tendency to be intolerant – we do not take kindly to views that differ from our individual views, we tend to look at people who express different opinions as embedded in opposition and criticism, whether in relation to the system or otherwise, is taken negatively instead of being appreciated in a constructive manner. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that the BVI is a perfect society because it is not, but one among many positive attributes I have seen of the society is the credence given to tolerance and respect for dissent. Governments are usually the biggest culprits in disregarding this value and our own Government in The Gambia is not free of such criticism. Recognizing, respecting and drawing inspiration from dissenting opinion can only make a better and solidified society; it will never make us worse off. So in short, there are many things The Gambia can learn from the BVI, but the one thing I think we need to concentrate our efforts on as a people is to develop the attribute of recognizing and accepting dissenting opinion as a value added resource to cohesive national development. Let’s debate, argue and criticize for all we want, but when it comes to dinner time let’s get together and eat from the same bowl and the Government must lead the way in this.
My Basse: Might you consider working for and in The Gambia again in the future? Do you sometimes feel like you are missing home?
Cherno S. Jallow: Well, The Gambia is still my country. It nurtured and developed me; the BVI and others enhanced and strengthened me. I can relocate to and work in my country anytime, so I do not consider that as an issue for me. I make it a duty to visit home regularly, at least once a year, but living in the BVI somewhat brings me closer to home.
My Basse: What advice do you have for the youths and young adults aspiring to follow in your footsteps in the legal field? What challenges should they expect? And what does it take to be successful?
Cherno S. Jallow: For the youngsters and new entrants into the legal field, my advice to them is a simple one: work hard, maintain your integrity because the success of your legal career depends on it, take your time to learn through the hoops and bathe in humility for it will serve you well. The legal career is an interesting one, you learn each day if you care to, the challenges are diverse and can be grueling at times and may bring you sleepless nights, but you must remain focused and steadfast. If you are a good listener and regard the law as the best friend you have when you are dealing with legal issues, then the challenges become light, for then the law will always speak for you – your honest work through the law that is – even if others disagree with your views.
As regards what it takes to be successful, well … all of the above. As a lawyer you must make sure that it is your work that speaks for you.
My Basse: What motivates you? What is the secret to your success?
Cherno S. Jallow: My family primarily. They look up to me for leadership and guidance and they expect me to succeed in what I do. So you can see that failure is not an option for me, my wife may forgive me but my children will not.
If I am considered to be successful, I am humbled by the consideration. However, I strongly believe in following, and indeed complying with, my own advice given earlier in relation to youngsters and new entrants to the legal profession.
My Basse: Looking back, and taking stock of your entire professional life, what, if anything, would you do differently?
Cherno S. Jallow: I probably would do the same things, but aspire to do them better and on a more enhanced platform.
My Basse: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Cherno S. Jallow: I have very little of that, but when I have it, I like to spend it playing squash and catching up with friends I haven’t been in touch with for a while. Staying home and debating with my family on varied issues of school, work and life generally is always a cherished moment … it gives me the opportunity to learn from them and them from me … that is if my ideas are not considered stale information.
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About the British Virgin Islands
- Located 96.5km east of Puerto Rico, close to US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean
- Consists of over 40 islands; largest, Tortola
- Capital city: Road Town
- Population: 28,882 based on 2005 census
- Language: English (official), Spanish
- Country status: Overseas territory of the United Kingdom, internal self-governing
- Legal system: English Law
- National Income generators: Tourism and financial services
- Currency: US Dollar
- Literacy rate: 98.2%
From the Archives. Past interviews with:
Wuyeh Yorro Sanyang, Senior Adviser, Basse Association, Inc.
Samba Johm, Public Relations Officer, Basse Association, Inc.