Dr. Yumkella speaks about Sierra Leone’s judiciary as parliament approves Appeals Court Judges

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 26 June 2020:

Democracy was at work in Sierra Leone’s parliament yesterday, when the main opposition APC party, led by  Honourable Chernoh Ramadan Maju Bah voted against two of the eight presidential nominees put forward by president Julius Maada Bio for MPs approval.

The two nominees opposed by the APC members of parliament were – Justices Komba Kamanda and Alhaji Momojah Stevens.

According to the opposition APC, both Justices currently serving at the High Court are highly instrumental in helping the ruling SLPP in what the APC regard as the continuous abuse of the constitution and judiciary powers by the SLPP government.

One APC MP said to the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “Why should we approve them? Afterall, Justice Komba  Kamanda is the infamous judge who removed ten of our elected APC MPs from their parliamentary seats and replaced them with unelected SLPP MPs. To this day we have not received justice, despite our appeal to the courts, for over two years now.  Justice Alhaji Momojah Stevens is of course the High Court Judge who is presently presiding over the alleged treason charges brought by this government against our former APC minister of defence and internal affairs – Retired Major Palo Conteh. We will not approve those two.”

But with a slight parliamentary majority wielded by the ruling SLPP, other minority opposition parties – C4C, NGC, Independent MPs and Paramount Chief Members of Parliament voted to approve the two Judges, along with the following six presidential nominees:

Sheikh Alhaji Yayah Sesay-Deputy Bank Governor 2, Bank of Sierra Leone; Mrs. Hawah Humu Wurie-Member, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency; Ms. Constance Bockarie-Member, National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency; Mrs. Maude Regina Peacock-Member, Board of Directors, Sierra Leone Local Content Agency; Major General Sulley Ibrahim Sesay-Chief of Defence Staff; Hon. Justice Fatmata Bintu Alhadi-Justice of the Court of Appeal.

After their approval, the Speaker of Parliament, Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu called on the nominees to deliver on their respective appointments by President Julius Maada Bio for the advancement and development of the country. He encouraged them to execute their duties in earnest by upholding the confidence reposed in them by the President and Parliament.

But Honourable Dr. Kandeh Yumkella –  Parliamentary leader of the NGC and MP for Constituency 062 in the Samu Chiefdom, Kambia District, had this to say:

“Mr. Speaker, today we appoint another set of judges who are not only crucial to ensure impartial, efficient, fair, and transparent justice to our citizens but are also the bedrock of democracy and sustainable development.

The judicial system is central to respect for the rule of law and the protection of human rights. Listening to ‘Alusine’ (APC) and ‘Alhasan’ (SLPP), we realize that there has been significant miscarriage of justice in the past. This cycle must end.

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 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, inefficiency of staff, and the politicization of the judiciary. There still 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.”

In our 2018 party manifesto (page 55), we called for judicial reforms to protect human rights and promote the rule of law. Specifically, we stated that “Every Sierra Leonean shall have confidence that the country’s legal and judicial systems can support and protect them and that nobody is above law.”

We believe that there is an urgent need to reform our judiciary including by investing in the infrastructure, equipment, personnel, training, and management and restoring its financial independence by granting it self-accounting status. We must enforce respect for human rights and rule of law and ensure timely delivery of justice for every Sierra Leonean.

De-politization of the judiciary and protecting its independence and integrity is crucial. 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, he or she 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 appointment 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.”

Another important issue is whether the President should appoint the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), a powerful office under section 66 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone. The DPP has the powers to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court in respect of any offences against the laws of Sierra Leone and the power to take over or discontinue any criminal proceedings.

Other justice sector institutions like the Sierra Leone Police and the Sierra Leone Correctional Services are also in dire need of reform to foster professionalism and to reduce executive interference in the functioning of these institutions.

Finally, my niece is in the gallery with other young people of the Child Advocacy Network to demonstrate their outrage of all child rape cases. We pray for baby Khadija Saccoh, and we pray that her family can cope with the tragedy and that justice will be done. We see the case of Khadija as symptomatic of a breakdown in morality in society and in the homes.

n spite of tough laws we passed in this parliament against sexual violence and the state of emergency declared last year, we see more and more heinous rape cases. Therefore, it should be clear that something more systemic, and maybe cultural, is thwarting our efforts to rid our society of this menace.

The NGC will support the effort of government, civil society, child rights groups, womens’ groups and others to rid our society of rape.”

1 Comment

  1. Dr Yomkella continues to demonstrate his deep and encompassing understanding of the maladies which have afflicted our nation. The symptoms and occurrence of these maladies go back decades. It would take unwavering leadership and courage to use the necessary medication to cure the maladies to set a new course for the nation.

    APC and SLPP have succeeded each other in office for almost sixty years; they have become an almost incurable disease; the most important treatment is opium to ease the pain. The opium is Dr KKY, who not only has an excellent grasp of our problems but revolutionary ideas to at least set them on the path to a solution. APC and SLPP like the scene as it is because it is consistently with their subliminal, sinister motives. They are very good in crafting slogans to win our votes; what they don’t tell us is the real meaning of the slogans. Earnest Koroma’s slogan of “running the country like a business” actually meant that all proceeds would end up in his and his gang’s pockets. Maada Bio’s “new direction” actually means all roads will lead to his office with the latest SUVs costing millions of dollars while doctors and nurses go unpaid while battling Covid 19.

    When the judiciary loses its independence in any country, that country is finished since those who interpret the law are always the last hope for individuals and institutions. At the moment KKY is the only hope we have to refocus our eyes on the road to success, where all our institutions are accorded their appropriate independence and expected to perform with impeccable professionalism.

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