Dr Kandeh Yumkella MP writes Sierra Leone’s Attorney General

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 August 2020:

Since his appointment as the new Attorney General and minister of justice of Sierra Leone, Anthony Y. Brewah has not had the opportunity of meeting with parliamentarians to discuss his stewardship, simply because by virtue of the country’s constitutional laws, parliament does not approve the president’s decision to appoint his Attorney General.

But there are many in Sierra Leone who believe that parliamentarians should have the prerogative of questioning and probing into the stewardship of the Attorney General upon their appointment, if not to approve their appointment by the president.

Two weeks ago (July 27, 2020), parliamentary leader of the opposition National Grand Coalition (NGC) party – Dr Kandeh Yumkella MP, wrote to the newly appointed Attorney General – Anthony Y. Brewah, raising several key national issues of concern. This is what Yumkella said:

Dear Learned Attorney-General and Minister of Justice,

Please permit me to congratulate you on your recent appointment. Please accept my best wishes for a successful tenure of office.

Sir, all other Ministers have to be approved by Parliament. By virtue of the Supreme Court decision in Sierra Leone Bar Association Vs. Eke Halloway and another, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice does not require to be approved by Parliament. As a result, we could not share our expectations for you in your new role with you. Therefore, please allow me to share with you a few thoughts on my hopes and expectations.

A few weeks ago, when Parliament approved the promotion of three new Judges to the Court of Appeal, I stated the importance of the justice sector in our nation’s development. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 highlights the fact that peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law are important conduits for sustainable development.

As I stated in Parliament, many of us are aware of the challenges that adversely affect the effective dispensation of fair and transparent administration of justice in our country. They include the problem of access to justice, especially for groups such as poor people, children and women, the absence of both individual and institutional independence, judicial corruption, lack of adequate resources, huge backlogs of cases leading to long delays, the inefficiency of staff, and the politicization of the judiciary. There remains poor coordination of the justice sector institutions.

Our current situation can best be described using the words of the former Kenyan Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, who said in 2011: “We found an institution so frail in its structures; so thin on resources; so low on its confidence; so deficient in integrity; so weak in its public support that to  have expected it to deliver justice was to be wildly optimistic. We found a judiciary that was designed to fail.”

As the principal legal adviser to the Government of Sierra Leone, you play a pivotal role in the administration of justice in Sierra Leone. During your tenure of office, we are counting on you to ensure that the rule of law remains the bedrock of this government. I urge you to do your utmost to enforce respect for human rights and access to justice and ensure timely delivery of justice for every Sierra Leonean.

I believe that there is an urgent need to reform our judiciary, including investing in the infrastructure, equipment, personnel, training, and management and restoring its financial independence by granting it self-accounting status.

I hope you will work with the Honourable Chief Justice to address these challenges and depoliticize the judiciary and protect its independence and integrity. We can learn from best practices in other African countries that have similar problems with political interference in the courts.

For example, in Kenya, although the President appoints the Chief Justice, s/he is selected by the Judicial Service Commission following a competitive process involving a vacancy announcement, shortlisting of applicants and interviews and subject to the approval of the National Assembly.

Kenya also set up an Office of the Judiciary Ombudsperson and strengthened Court Users’ Committees, which opened lines of communication for citizens to register complaints, suggest changes, and receive responses.

Judicial appointments must be based on merit and not on discretion. There must be a formal process for evaluating judges who are seeking promotion.

We also need to reform our Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC). As has been pointed out, almost all the members of the JLSC are appointed by the President in some way, either specifically to serve on the Commission, or to hold the public office that qualifies them automatically for membership on the Commission. In the words of one study, “the JLSC framework raises the risk that the ruling political party can dominate the pre-Parliamentary appointments process.”

Our laws are in urgent need of reform. Many are outdated and anachronistic. I urge you to work with the drafting unit within the Law Officers Department and the Law Reform Commission to embark on a wholesale review of the laws of Sierra Leone. Some key legislations I would propose that need urgent review include the Constitution of Sierra Leone, the supreme law of our country. I urge you to build on the excellent work undertaken by the late Justice Edmond Cowan and revisit the White Paper issued by the previous government.

Also crucial is the amendment of our laws pertaining to citizenship. The revised law must remove the disqualification of dual citizens from contesting elections as Members of Parliament and allow the election of dual citizens as President, Vice President and Speaker. I also urge you to amend the relevant law to improve on the representation of women in parliament and reduce the time required by public officers to resign before elections.

I also urge you to work to ensure that the revised Criminal Procedure Act is urgently reviewed by Cabinet and submitted to Parliament. The Act makes provision for alternatives sentences, including probation, community service and suspended sentences; this will help unclog our courts and decongest our prisons.

I hope that we will also see the promotion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms during your tenure.

The recent spate of rape, sexual penetration and sexual and gender-based violence cases deserve your immediate and urgent attention. The conviction rates for such cases remains appalling low. I hope that you will set up a unit within your office to work with the Family Support Unit of the Police to proactively investigate and prosecute such cases. This will serve as a deterrence and send a loud and clear message to perpetrators.

Sierra Leone has been a leader in the provision of paralegal services on the continent and has one of the most progressive legal aid laws in the continent. In its New Direction manifesto, your government promised to  ‘Train a cadre of ‘paralegals’ to support the sector in the country’s extreme rural communities where the services of trained legal practitioners’ currently pose a huge challenge and Strengthen and capacitate the Legal Aid Programme to continue to provide legal aid services to our indigent and vulnerable citizens.’

I trust that you will work with the Legal Aid Board and other organizations to ensure that these promises come to fruition.

Finally, let me conclude by urging you to work hard to build a good working relationship with the Speaker and the Honourable Members of Parliament. In the recent past, we have had some challenges that threatened to erode the trust needed between our institutions. I sincerely hope you will address this issue and ensure that we work together to better the land that we love.

Sincerely,

Alhaji Hon. Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella
MP Const. 062

Cc:  H.E. The President                           cc:  Hon. Chief Minister

6 Comments

  1. It is quite dispiriting to see someone with some amount of integrity trying to give sensible advice to people that will just shrug it off and then laugh at you.Yumkella is just wasting his time bombarding the notorious SLPP with his bright ideas,because in the eyes of their criminal cabal he has no credibility whatsoever. Honestly I think Dr Yumkella should keep a low profile and pay greater attention to building a sustainable vibrant NGC. Its needless to now try and become a trusted adviser with good conscience to an arrogant group of snooty individuals you angrily broke away from because you found them strangely unsettling.

    Again it seems to me Dr Yumkella doesn’t know what he’s up against; neither is he fully aware that he has mountains waiting for him to climb and vast expanses of scorching arid deserts to cross before his fragile limping political party would be able to stand firmly and decisively on its own.The clock is ticking and trust me,not even Yumkella’s unmatched flair and exuberance that comes effortlessly with acting like a perfect Statesman will be enough to get him into State House – he certainly will need votes, millions of votes to get there…And in today’s Sierra Leone votes are very hard to come by…Good Luck to you Sir!(lol)

  2. An exhaustive and well articulated memorandum by Dr. KKY, highlighting innumerable needed legal reforms having adverse socio-economic effects across the civic and political divide. Like everything else, while in the receiving end as opposition figures, politicians from all major political parties have in past always campaign on the need to reform both our judiciary/legal systems. However, the minute they assume office and now in control of the arsenal of judiciary/legal weapons to subdue, terrorize and decapitate potential dissent, the cries of needed reforms become nuisance in their ears.

    To satisfy their greedy personal political desires, instead of setting the pace for a new dawn in how things should be done in a positive way, our good for nothing politicians always choose to emulate bad precedents set by unpatriotic individuals in the past. I am having a hard time wrapping my head around why politicians always choose to embrace suppressive and undemocratic schemes that they deem bad for our nation and campaign against while in the opposition, instead of eradicating those schemes for the benefit of all. How exactly do we expect our nation to grow if all we do is emulate retrogressive bad precedents?

    Every good thing or scheme that citizens in every nation enjoys today was put forth by some patriotic individual who choses to fight for the common good rather than self. In a democratic dispensation such as ours, no appointment or political office is guaranteed to last. The laws or schemes that you weaponize today will certainly affect you directly or indirectly via relatives or political associates once the baton of power changes. So why not be an agent of positive change? Only unpatriotic citizens will dwell on revenge, using bad historical events that they vehemently opposed in the past as an excuse for maintaining the status quo.

  3. The training of officials responsible for interpreting the laws of the land to be independent when they are carrying out their duties is one of the cardinal rules you learn or acquire during the training process. This is especially so for members of the judiciary and members of the security services. Yes millions of dollars were spent on our police and military by friendly countries under the auspices of IMAAT. They recognised that in order for Sierra Leone to be able to maintain peace and stability, we needed a security force that is capable of defending out country from state and none state actors.

    We all recall when members of the Sierra Leone army were dubbed “SOBELs”. That explained why you need an army that is and is capable of defending the state against outside aggression. Right now, it looks like they are only interested in defending one of their own – President Bio, at the expense of the nation. The Sierra Leone police was trained to perform their role of preventing, investigating crimes and keeping the peace amongst the general population. Above all else perform their duties independly free from the shakles of political dogmas.

    I suppose the proudest moments for every Sierra Leonean was when we sent members of the Sierra Leone armed forces and police to peace keeping missions to some of Africa’s hot spots like Somalia and Darfur. At the time our country was held up as a shining example of how a country can go through the evils of a civil war and come out the other end, and teach war torn countries what the dividend of peace can make the impossible the possible. Not any more. Under this government and the previous government, that is all history. Their performance so far should make us hang our heads in shame.

  4. Very interesting letter. However, there are many points raised by the Honourable Dr Kande Yumkela that is not feasible. Example, the citizenry issue. There is no where else where a dual citizen can vie for or be appointed to the presidency, parliament and Chief Justice. Even in the USA or UK, it is not feasible. Boris Johnson for example was born in the USA which gives him automatic right to USA citizenship but opted against it because he wanted to become the premier of the UK, a feat that he has achieved. Trump’d parents were both migrants from Germany and the UK but never took citizenship in those two countries. Former president Obama’s father came from Kenya. He grew up partially in Indonesia with an Indonesian step Father but he never took the citizenship of those countries because he had his eyes on the presidency of the USA.

    The restructuring that took place after the war was mostly centred on Justice and security sectors. Millions of dollars was expended on the police, army and the Judiciary. After president Kabba and Dfid every gain was eroded. We saw two high profile cases presided over by Justices who benefited from those restructuring process. They were not good to remember. I am talking about the Solomon Berewa election petition which was never looked into, and the sacking of the Sam Sumana.

    Many in the leadership of the police were sent to Bramshil in the UK for leadership training, OSDs were trained on crowd and Riot control, IMAAT was established in Freetown by the British Army where our military officers received training in human rights and rule of engagement. Less than 15 years all of those gains have been eroded. So putting too much expectations on the new AG who has exactly two and half years remaining on the life of this government is an attempt in futility.

  5. A skillfully written letter which delivers the the Attorney-general to the court of public opinion. Heaven knows that for decades, like all other institutions of the government, the office of the Attorney-general has been so politisised that the dispensation of justice has been categorised. If you are poor, forget about receiving justice. If you’re a member of the government or have any association with it, there is no such thing as receiving an unfavourable ruling from the courts. If you’re wealthy you can bribe your way to warped justice. Attorney-general Brewah can only bring about reform depending on his disposition. If he is the run-of-mill type, let’s keep our expectations in check.

    It’s salutary to Dr Yomkella for bringing the subject of justice to the forefront of the numerous problems which the country faces. A totally independent judicial system has far-reaching repercussions beyond every day considerations. For example, foreign investors are more likely to be attracted to a nation where they know that they are protected by law than to that where the head of state controls all the arms of government. Dr Yomkella needs other parliamentarians and other prominent figures to support him, he should not feel like a lone fighter. Sierra Leone is in a judicial mess.

Tell us about your views

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.