Sierra Leone Telegraph: 2 March 2018:
Sierra Leone’s Supreme Court hearing of the petition brought by the ruling APC for constitutional interpretation of the laws governing citizenship and the right to contest elections, was brought to a halt today, as lawyers for Dr. Yumkella raised serious legal questions about the ‘fitness’ of two of the Judges hearing the matter.
Speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph this evening, a legal expert who was in court as an observer said: “I was at Court Number 1 and we saw a host of lawyers from both sides. We also saw Dr Abdulai Conteh, the author of our 1991 Constitution – which is the subject of the hearing, sitting alongside the defence counsel representing Dr Yumkella.
“The court was briefly adjourned for about fifteen minutes upon the request of lawyer Banja Tejan-Sie, who is lead counsel for the defence.
“Upon return, and to the surprise of those sitting in the courtroom, Banja Tejan-Sie immediately requested for the recusal of two of the Judges.
“He was granted private briefing by Justice Nicholas Browne-Marke – the judge leading the hearing, to discuss the recusal in private with the Judges. Counsel were invited into the private briefing.
“Upon their return to the court, Justice Brown-Marke announced that the hearing will be adjourned to 9am next Monday, 5th March 2018.
It should be remembered that the petition brought by the ruling APC has nothing to do with the Public Elections Act. In other words, the ruling APC has filed for a constitutional interpretation of the rules governing citizenship and the right to contest elections, not a request for an injunction to stop Yumkella from contesting the elections on the 7th of March.
As the Sierra Leone Telegraph’s legal expert reported: “The substantive matter cannot be heard today. Today’s adjournment is about the defence’s application for recusal of two of the Judges. It seems the defence have got very good reasons to believe that the two Judges in question are unfit to sit on the hearing, because of their possible lack of impartiality or conflict of interests. No one knows at this stage what the defence counsel have got under their sleeves.
“The defence counsel have the right to ask a judge to recuse himself – in other words, leave the court, if counsel can show that the Judge in question is biased, for example.
“But such request for recusal must be made in writing, and it is for this reason that the lead Judge – Justice Browne-Marke has asked defence counsel to make their application for recusal in writing, which must be submitted by 9.30am next Monday, 5th March.”
Will the Supreme Court conclude its hearing next Monday and make its ruling?
“No. This is highly unlikely, as this case could see several more adjournments, which could last for months,” our legal expert told the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
But no matter the outcome or ruling of the Supreme Court, there is nothing stopping Dr Yumkella from contesting the elections next week. His name is on the ballot papers for both presidential and parliamentary elections, and that’s final.
Should Yumkella win the presidential election, he will be heading for State House, no matter the Supreme Court’s ruling.