Saffea Komba: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 February 2021:
Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden OOR, whilst addressing the Supreme Court in the matter of her Elections Petition case against the 2018 election of President Bio, has argued against the striking out of her Petition. Representing herself in person, she was speaking on Wednesday February 17th 2021.
After three years of no movement on the court case, the Judiciary finally commenced hearings on the matter on 2nd February 2021. The hearing started with lengthy submissions by the Lawyers for President Bio requesting for the Sylvia Blyden & Samura Kamara consolidated petitions, to be struck out on several technical grounds.
Veteran and highly respected legal luminary George Banda-Thomas is leading a team of eight brilliant lawyers on behalf of the President and the SLPP. They presented five grounds on which they asked the Supreme Court to throw the Petition out.
The first of the grounds is that Blyden’s Petition did not abide by many of the rules of the 2007 Elections Petition Rules.
It was in answer to Ground 1 of the Motion of the President/SLPP that Dr. Sylvia Blyden used a three-pronged approach to make her submissions in a calm and humble manner.
Dr. Blyden submitted that no petitioner against a Presidential Election is bound to follow the Elections Petitions Rules of 2007. She said those 2007 Rules were only for challenging elections of Members of Parliament. She referenced legal authorities to back her position including a July 2018 Judgment by the Supreme Court that had stated presidential elections petitions are “radically different” from parliamentary elections petitions.
Two of the Judges who had delivered that judgment in 2018 are Hon. Justice N.C. Browne-Marke and Hon. Justice E. E. Roberts. Both are now part of the five judges hearing this matter. The other judges are Hon. Justice Alusine Sesay, Hon. Justice Ivan Sesay and the Hon. Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards who is presiding over the matter.
Furthering her arguments on the radical difference between the two kinds of petitions, Dr. Blyden cited from the Sierra Leone Constitution.
“My Lords, the position of the Supreme Court on the radical difference between a Presidential Election Petition and a Parliamentary Election Petition is endorsed by the Sierra Leone Constitution. Under Section 78(5) of the Sierra Leone Constitution, a Parliamentary Elections Petition can never, ever, ever reach the level of the Supreme Court because the ceiling for legal redress available to Petitioners against Parliamentary Elections is the Appeals Court. In sharp contrast, a Presidential Elections Petition simply goes straight to the Supreme Court as per Section 45 of the Sierra Leone Constitution. This radical difference in how Petitioners access the Law Courts for the two kinds of petitions, simply buttresses the position of the Supreme Court that the two kinds of Petitions are radically different”.
Dr. Sylvia Blyden then cited another Supreme Court matter from the year 2012 in which Julius Maada Bio and John Oponjo Benjamin had petitioned the elections of President Ernest Koroma. She said the Supreme Court back then had “carefully refrained from asserting applicability of the 2007 Elections Petition Rules to hold in the Supreme Court”.
Dr. Blyden said even in the ongoing petition she had filed, the Supreme Court had again side-stepped to say the 2007 Elections Petition Rules applied to Presidential Elections. She read out a portion of the ruling of the Court which had consolidated her Petition with that of Dr. Samura Kamara. The portion she read out, had firmly refused to say the 2007 Elections Petition Rules applied to Presidential Elections Petitions.
After concluding that first prong of her arguments, Dr. Sylvia Blyden started her second prong of arguments by showing how Section 124(2) of the 2002 Electoral Laws Act, makes provision for the 1986 Elections Petition Rules to be the one that is applicable to Presidential Elections Petitions.
She said that even after the 2002 Electoral Laws Act got repealed by the 2012 Public Elections Act, the 2012 Act under Section 168(2), still made provision for ‘savings’ of that particular prescription of using the 1986 Elections Petition Rules for presidential election petitions and that such ‘savings’ will continue until such time as it was “expressly repealed”.
Dr. Blyden said that no such “expressed repeal” of that particular prescription has as yet occurred and so it stands firmly that the 1986 Elections Petition Rules are the rules to be applied for presidential elections petitions at the Supreme Court.
Speaking on the seeming revocation of the 1986 Rules in 2007, Dr. Sylvia Blyden submitted that “The attempt by the Rules of Court committee to purport to revoke the 1986 Elections Petition Rules is null and void”.
To show why she held the revocation to be null and void, Dr. Sylvia Blyden tendered the Statement delivered by the Honourable Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards on 29th January 2019 at the opening of the Commissions of Inquiry (COIs) to investigate the erstwhile APC-led Government.
“In this brilliant and inspirational statement, the Honourable Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards, lectured us the people of Sierra Leone on the difference between a Primary Legislation enacted by a whole House of Parliament as against a Subsidiary Legislation created by a delegated committee such as the Rules of Court Committee,” Dr. Sylvia Blyden said.
Continuing, she asked the Judges to turn to Page 5 of the published Statement so as to see where the Chief Justice had emphatically underlined certain words to create emphasis.
The underline segment had said Rules of Court Committee can make rules but such rules are rules “which cannot in any way override the Primary Legislation”.
Dr. Blyden therefore submitted that the attempt by a Delegated Committee to revoke a Statutory Instrument that is already part of the expressed prescription of a still active Primary Legislation was null and void.
“My Lords, the Rules of Court committee cannot purport to over-ride any prescription of a primary legislation, enacted by a whole house of Parliament and which prescription is still in force, until such prescription is expressly repealed; so I humbly submit and hold that the purported revocation of Statutory Instrument Number 12 of 1986 as stated in Rule 54 of the Elections Petition Rules of 2007 is null, void and of absolutely no effect,” Dr. Blyden said.
Dr. Blyden then said even if the Supreme Court were to disagree with her and hold that the revocation was valid, still the Elections Petitions Rules of 2007 had no mandate over Presidential Elections Petition so there would “still remain a vacuum” in terms of which rules of procedure applied to Presidential Elections Petitions.
She furthered that it cannot even be automatic that Rule 98 of the Supreme Court rules applies to extent of using 2007 Elections Petition Rules at Supreme Court, just because it was currently applicable at the High Court.
She said there were many different kinds of Petitions that have various procedures and rules at the High Court including Divorce Petitions, Winding-Up Petitions, etc. etc. She said they were all “radically different” from a Presidential Elections Petition and so it will be unwise to say that Rule 98 automatically means using any of those procedures of “radically different” kinds of High Court Petitions.
“My Lords, can we use the procedural rules for hearing a Divorce Petition at the High Court to be the procedural rules for hearing a Presidential Election Petition at the Supreme Court? No, we cannot because they are two radically different Petitions. My Lords, can we use the procedural rules for hearing a Bankruptcy Petition at the High Court to be the rules for hearing a Presidential Election Petition at the Supreme Court? No, we cannot because they are two radically different petitions. So I submit that we cannot use the rules of a High Court Parliamentary Petition to hear a Presidential Elections Petition at the Supreme Court because they are two radically different Petitions,” Dr. Blyden submitted.
She asked the Supreme Court not to punish Sierra Leonean petitioners from exercising their right to petition simply because the Rules of Court committee has not yet made required Rules for proceedings in a presidential election petition.
She again cited from the Statement of the Chief Justice at the opening of the COIs to show absence of rules cannot inhibit a procedure from being heard.
Dr. Sylvia Blyden then proffered that given the tremendous powers of the Supreme Court, in the absence of any such rules, the vacuum can be cured by the Supreme Court using its powers under Rule 103 of the Supreme Court Rules to direct the way forward.
The Supreme Court judges keenly listened and interjected several times with questions which Dr. Sylvia Blyden handled with dexterity in a manner that showed she had a grasp of many of the country’s laws around Elections and a good grasp of the Sierra Leone Constitution. She was calm and responded with humility and highest respect for the five Judges.
In sharp contrast to the calmness with which Dr. Sylvia Blyden made her submissions, the lawyers for President Bio, in persons of Lawyer Musa Mewah Esq. and Lawyer George Banda-Thomas Esq. had to be advised by the Judges to keep their cool when they several times stood up to strongly interrupt Dr. Sylvia Blyden as she calmly laid out her legal arguments.
Earlier before commencing her submissions in reaction to the various grounds, Dr. Sylvia Blyden apologized to the country’s Legal Profession. She said her decision to make a self-representation was not to be taken as a slight of the country’s legal practitioners but as a result of the nature of the matter.
She said she would have wished to have lawyers make the arguments for her, but she lamented that given the fact that H.E. President Bio was now well entrenched in office for three years, he had become very, very powerful and so many lawyers shy away from engaging in forceful representation of her position that seeks to have such a very powerful President Bio removed from office as president.
Dr. Sylvia Blyden said even the Affidavit filed last month on January 12th 2021 by the President was “very intimidating” in the contents and in the assertion therein that the place of signing it was the “State House”.
Meanwhile, the matter has now been adjourned to Monday February 22nd, 2021, when Dr. Sylvia Blyden is expected to make her further submissions to challenge the other grounds of objections presented by the SLPP and President Bio through their eight-man team of brilliant lawyers.