“Access to Quality Justice in Sierra Leone:” The Front Gates Are Closed
Every Sierra Leonean is subject to the application of the law, and by logical extension, the Judiciary of Sierra Leone. The principle of the Rule of Law is vital to the peace, prosperity and consolidation of the country’s democratic credentials. The realization of an effective Rule of Law operation can mostly be achieved through an effective, impartial, reliable and fair judiciary.
What then is the Rule of Law? For the United Nations, the rule of law refers to a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.” (S/2004/616 – Report of the Secretary General on the Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-conflict Societies).
The ultimate existence of the Judiciary is to make certain every citizen enjoys a fair trial. Therefore, Justice must be rooted in confidence, a judge once remarked. In effect, the litigants and the public must generally be confident that the keepers of the laws of the land are impartial. It means they are liberated to make impartial decisions based exclusively on facts and law. Judicial independence must not be invoked for what it assures or benefits judicial officials, but for the advancement of justice, equity and fair play. Judiciary Independence is not the only required factor for an effective and trusted courts system, there is also the need for competent, honest, fair and credible judicial officials to ensure fairness, predictability and legal certainty. But if legal certainty is scarce to come by and public confidence is lacking, the Judiciary may no longer keep the peace. Litigants will seek other means of resolving their differences. This must be always seen as red flag or early warning conflict signal as inefficient and corrupt judiciaries have in no mean ways contributed to brutal civil wars all over the world. In fact, various case studies I carried out have established that weak, corrupt and inept judiciaries trigger violent armed conflicts.
In Sierra Leone, Judicial authority is vested in the Judiciary of Sierra Leone by the provisions of Section 120 of the Constitution (Act No. 6 of 1991) of Sierra Leone. It states that: “The Judicial Power of Sierra Leone shall be vested in the Judiciary of which the Chief Justice shall be the Head.” In the very recent past, the Judiciary issued a press release that makes for interesting reading. Judging solely by that release, the impression is created that the judiciary of Sierra Leone is problem free; strict adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency. These bold assertions of the highest audacity; they are like a well-worked-coded-formula to distract attention by blatantly ignoring overwhelming evidence.
Given that these assertions have lifted the veil and put the character of the judiciary in issue, we are now free from the threat of all forms of libel to validate these claims. You could almost admire the naivety of the claim that the Judiciary had at all times ensured “access to quality justice in Sierra Leone” and “strives to ensure that all litigants” are “treated equally and fairly…. that no case is more important than the other” and it “ensures… correct decisions are followed at all times and in all cases.”
Interesting bold assertions, except that on the evidence available, they don’t quite add up. For instance, contrast these claims to the cases of the Three Justices of the Superior Court of Judicature. The cliché justice delayed is justice denied becomes very relevant in this instance. The judiciary’s handling of its own has been appalling, shameful and dishonorable, to say the least. Without holding any brief for them, I honestly think Justices Sesay and Halloway have not gotten any justice. The Tribunal has concluded sittings but no report has been published. In the cases of Justices Halloway and Edwards, the Hon. Chief Judge was the Chief Complainant. The futures of Justices Halloway and Sesay have been on the balance for almost half a decade. It seems as if the strategy is to diminish them off by creating needless delays and uncertainties and torment them to the gallows. Given that the hearings were publicly conducted, the judicious thing to do is to make the report public. That the tribunal could not complete its work, over three years after its creation, seems to strengthen the view that these judges are being calculatedly waned off. How is this consistent with the “diligent” dispensation of justice espoused in the release? At least, it is great to hear that Justice Edwards won his battle and has been accordingly reinstated. If Justices Halloway and Sesay are found wanton, make it official and pronounce so. But for God’s case, if nothing is proved against them, please let them be. You are killing them! This could happen to any Judicial Officer. Justice is not only about finding people guilty, it is also about letting the innocent enjoy their freedoms with no hindrances and encumbrances. It is alleged that judges who fail to dance to this “Azonto” shake face the music. This probably explains why certain magistrates and judges are overcrowded with cases whilst the non-Azonto judicial dancers have virtually nothing to do regardless of their experience and knowledge of the law.
Consequently, the adjournment of hearings on the matter between the SLPP and NEC gives us another opportunity to gauge the Judiciary with a view to determining whether it passes the test of its constitutional mandate and in accordance with the principles espoused in its press release. In the Kenya case, we saw the role the judiciary played to restore post-election calm by quickly addressing the election petition. In Ghana, the same considerations motivated the administrators of the courts to quickly commence hearings on the election petition. The same cannot be said for Sierra Leone where judicial authorities took more than five years to pronounce judgment on the first SLPP petition and took more than five months to commence sittings for the latest SLPP petition. Not to the prejudice the matter, I will refrain from making any comments about the outcome only because in respect of the Rule of Law. But I have very strong opinion about what the judgment would definitely be.
The main issues contained in the release border and touch on the Principle of Judicial Independence. But Judicial Independence means the rule of law must not be subject to the whims and caprices of a few senior judges who may have transformed themselves into a cocoon bullying non-compliant judges with guaranteed impunity. The allegation seems to point to horizontal interference more from within than from outside. The so-called junior judges, who have been prevented from doing their duties freely, should be strong enough to remind senior colleagues that the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in Sierra Leone directs that in the performance of his or her duties, a Judicial Officer shall, within in his court, be independent of his judicial colleagues in respect of decisions which he is obliged to make independently.
Brazenly, the Judiciary claims that it “…does not deliberately treat any matter in a lethargic manner or at a snail’s pace.” Such a statement is very painful to the throngs of unsuccessful justice seekers at the hands of the Judiciary. Those with skeletons in their closets should not trigger a Pandora’s Box. How about the long overdue judgments? Can the judiciary volunteer to give an honest breakdown of its case management with respect to numbers (how many case files) and time frame (the duration of each matter before the court)? There are cases that have taken far more than a decade for adjudication. There are many more other such cases. How about citizens who died without justice because courts seemingly clog the progress of their cases? How about the alleged rights that have been turned into wrongs and vice versa? As a consequence, some Sierra Leoneans have developed deep psychic scarring of the judiciary because its actions have brought much weeping, gnashing of teeth, and drowning of sorrows.
Significantly, it is worthy to also take cognizance of the fact that other Judges within the Commonwealth Jurisdiction do not agree with the praises and qualities of fair hearing the Judiciary has accorded itself in that press release. In her recent review of a judgment of the High Court of Sierra Leone, British QC, Lady Greenberg, was very unimpressed with the administration of Justice in that Republic. She left us in no doubt that judgments like these have the potential of placing in danger the reputation and credibility of Sierra Leone’s Judiciary internationally. I would not be alone to suspect that if this trend continues, the Judiciary of that country will continue to lose international respect and consequently, support. There are many more of these kinds of judicial reviews on Sierra Leone. As and when relevant, I will publish articles on these reviews.
All things considered, maybe it high time we began to entertain the idea of a change of guard at the helm because “everything rises and falls on leadership,” they say. The judiciary is reported to be fraught with in-fighting, divisions, jealousy, petty bickering and power struggles. Perhaps this situation necessitates urgent reforms in policy and personnel. There are young, dynamic and very disciplined judges. They can make the distinction if given the crunch. Seriously, if the press release was intended to address any issue, it is an attempt too shabby. No one should be too big to bite the bullet. The history of the judiciary is too ingrained to be washed aside and the facts are too numerous to ignore. A mere press release, no matter how wordy, cannot wash away the essentials.Princess Adama Kopoi
Stay with Sierra Express Media, for your trusted place in news!
© 2013, https:. All rights reserved.