By: Kebba Ansu Manneh
Barrister Binta Samura, Senior State Counsel at the Ministry of Justice and legal drafter has authoritatively confirmed that existing legislation on breeding, ownership, and management of dogs has existed in Gambian laws since 1916, revealing that the Act has been amended four times, making it mandatory for every dog owner in the country to license their pets.
Barrister Samura made this disclosure in an exclusive interview with TAT on the heels of increasing cases of reported dog-biting incidents across the country, leading to the deaths of some victims while leaving others with lifelong stigma and infections.
The rate of dog attacks has raised fear and concerns among citizens over the country’s management, breeding, and ownership of dogs.
“Of course, there is legislation called the Dogs Act that has been here since 1916. It has been here well before the Independence. It has gone through a series of amendments; it was amended in 1932, in 1954, in 1956, and the final amendment to this legislation was done in 1963, two years before Independence,” Barrister Binta Samura revealed.
She added: “When you look at the law as a legislator, you either look at it to see whether there are loopholes for amendment, then you amend it. If you feel that the loopholes are beyond repair, then you could put aside that legislation and come up with something new to replace the old one. In this event, I have seen that this law has been amended four times, but still it standing and has not been repealed in over 107 years.”
Barrister Samura continued to observe that the drafters of the Dogs Act, in hindsight, failed to provide a specific duration upon which this law should be revisited to see whether it is in conformity with the present realities and/or to see assess possibilities for amendments or its subsequent repeal. She also opined that this could have been the primary reason why the Act was amended four times from 1916 to 1963.
According to her, the preamble of this colonial law in ‘Our Legal Books’ talks explicitly about the licensing and destruction of dangerous dogs, saying that the law makes it mandatory for every dog owner in the country to license his or her dogs either as a pet or for security reason and, therefore, anyone who keeps a dog for more than six months without being licensed contravenes the amended Dogs Act of 1963.
“This Act states that a person keeping a dog of whatever description, be it for security purposes, wild dogs for any other purposes for more than six months within the city of Banjul must license the dogs not later than the 10 days of January of each year. This dog’s license should also be renewed every year just like the motor license, which applies to any person keeping a dog for more than six months,” Barrister Binta Samura explained.
She added: “Under this law and upon logging a complaint by any individual to the Magistrate Court that a certain dog is dangerous or not kept under proper control, the court may decide on its destruction. Before any dog is destroyed under this Act, there must be a complaint filed to the courts. If the court is satisfied based on evidence provided, it is only then that such a dog can be destroyed on Court orders.”
Responding to TAT on the recent mauling of a Sierra Leonean man to death by an alleged dangerous dog, State Counsel Samura affirmed that such dogs can only be destroyed when the individual(s) complaint and the court decision is passed for its elimination, adding that the incident may fall under the purview of the Dogs Act and any dissatisfied party or individual can challenge the matter at a Magistrate Court.
On the charges to be imposed on offenders under the Dogs Act, the legal draftswoman disclosed that D2 is levied on anyone who registers his or her dogs, noting that the same law imposes a fine of D20 for failure to register dogs for whatever purpose one intends to keep the dog.
She said the Act is not specific on the charges to be preferred on owners of dangerous dogs, which the courts are to determine, observing that the Dogs Act needs to be revisited, repealed, or amended to fill the loopholes to address current realities and withstand the test of time.
She finally called on all and sundry to read and familiarize themselves with the laws of The Gambia while recommending for sensitization of the masses, especially on existing laws that the public is not aware of, noting that such sensitization must be carried out in a multi-stakeholder approach that includes the Ministry of Justice, the National Assembly, the National Council for Civic Education, the Media and private sector.