British High Commissioner questions Judiciary’s capacity and preparedness for 2023 elections

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 November 2021:

British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Lisa Chesney held talks yesterday with the country’s Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards in Freetown, where she raised concerns about the preparedness of the Judiciary to dispense justice fairly and promptly to complaints of electoral offences.

Her concerns come following a European Union Elections Follow-up Mission to Sierra Leone report which expressed alarm at the lack of independence and partiality of the judiciary in dealing with election petitions.

Responding to the questions raised by the British High Commissioner about the lack of impartiality of the Judiciary in dealing with petitions after the 2018 elections, the Chief Justice said, “the Law is the Judge’s master, and the law is looked at in terms of what comes before us”.

Regarding the 2023 elections, Justice Edwards said: “we would do our best and follow the Law”

Commenting on the government’s performance in the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Scorebook with a 63% rating pass mark in administering the Rule of Law, the British High Commissioner commended the Judiciary for the progress it is making. The MCC scorecard rating recognises the many reforms the Judiciary has made, including the deployment of Magistrates in all Districts and Judges in places where there were no sitting Judges.

She told the Chief Justice that the UK government will continue to support the Judiciary, especially in providing professional training for Judges.

Chief Justice Edwards spoke about the establishment of the eight specialized divisions of the High Court including the Sexual Offences Model Court; the Social Security Court; Anti-Corruption Court and now the Small Claims Court.

He noted that amidst the many achievements recorded so far in improving access to justice, expeditious trials have been possible in places where no High Court sessions in the provinces were held before but now have Magistrates and Resident Judges.

Speaking about the operations of the Sexual Offences Model Court which he referred to as “the first in the sub-region”, Chief Justice Edwards said the Court has unique features such as an independent registry, Judges’ chambers, victims’ protection witness box, prepping section, child friendly waiting rooms and television screens to video-play and recording of witness evidence taken at the One Stop Centers or the police stations. He said there is marked improvement in the conviction rate for sexual offences from less than 2% to 20%.

 

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