Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 January 2022:
The Judiciary of Sierra Leone last Friday announced that it will review the convictions of over 1,000 inmates as part of what it describes as effort to increase access to justice and decongest Correctional Centres across the country.
This week, 31st January 2022 to 4th February 2022 has therefore been declared as ACCESS TO JUSTICE WEEK.
According to statement published last by the Judiciary; “This is one of the initiatives of the current administration provided by the Honourable Chief Justice, His Lordship Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards, to enhance access to justice and to further decongest correctional centers by ensuring that inmates/accused persons or some convicted persons have the opportunity to be heard and have their cases reviewed by specific Judges deployed across the Country by the Honourable Chief Justice.”
“Following a stakeholders meeting involving the Judiciary, Sierra Leone Correctional Centers, Legal Aid Board, Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Sierra Leone Police, it was discovered that a good number of inmates had issues bothering on access to Justice,” the statement reads.
Out of a total of one thousand and thirteen prisoners, 111 are awaiting trial without indictments; 138 on prolonged adjournments due to lack of empanelled jurors, 181 on bail but unable to fulfil their bail conditions to secure their release, 47 serving unjustifiable and disproportionate sentences from Magistrates with no Summary Review application in their favour, and 532 are behind bars with no admission to bail for possible bailable offences.
In order to address these injustices, 26 Judges will be deployed across the country to ensure that prisoners are given the opportunity to have their incarcerations reviewed in Prison Courts to be held outside the Correctional facilities; while those without indictments would be given the opportunity for their cases to be dealt with expeditiously or as the justice of case may require.
But the imp[act of this declared Justice Week will be felt across the Justice system, as there will be a one-week recess across the country where all other Court matters will not be heard except for those matters to be dealt with during this Judicial Week.
In effect, no Court siting will take place because the Judges will be using all the Courts across the country to expedite the process in a transparent manner, says the statement from the Judiciary.
Penal reforms in Sierra Leone is long overdue. For some of the accused remandees who have never had their pretrial dates set, or those that are accused but can’t meet the bail conditions, waking up in your prison facility, whether is in Mafanta or Kabala correction facilities, and suddenly you found yourself infront one of many moblie judges that have been dispatched by Chief Justice Desmond Babatunde, across the country to speed up access and accountability of your actions infront of his learned judges that literally have your fate in their hands, most have come as a pleasant surprise for those prisoners. Yes we all know our correction facilities both for the prison authorities and the prisoners, is a very difficult environment to call home. After the socalled prison riots in Pademba Road, in which 40 or more innocent young unarmed prisoners lost their lives at the hands of our trigger happy Sierra Leone police, we called on Bio’s government to set up a commission of inquiry and investigate why the riots took place.So we can learn valuable lessons.
And such events are never repeated in our country. He never did because back then as he put it, they are terrorist and working behind the barbed wire walls of Pademba Road prison to undermined his one directionless government and make Sierra-leone ungovernable. At the time I thought Bio have lost his marbles, or paranoia was getting the better of him . Here we are, out of the blue, prison reforms is high on the agenda of Bio’s government.Bio likes to react to events, rather than help shape events. After the pardoning of two Murders and the subsequent public out cry that followed, the President has to be seen to be doing something about prisoners in general in Sierra Leone. “MR PRESIDENT IS EVEN HANDED.HE TREATS EVERY ONE EQUALLY” So he and his supporters will want us believe. But we know the score. “Tough the pardons were rescinded, the damage was already done.
We now know even if you take someone else life and have dip pockets to bribes a government ministers that works in the ministry of Justice , chances are you will literally get away with murder. It is not a far fetch theory, conjured up by a Fulani witch doctor but a proven and practical theory that took place recently in our country. Hence the recent course correction of dispatching mobile judges, so those poor souls that can’t afford to bribe their way out of prison can now have their day in court. Some have spent years on remand and not knowing why they have been held in the first place. There should be a law like the Kingdom of Lesotho that says, no individual should spend more than sixty days in remand with out being told about their crime, or being charged for a particular offence. Failing to bring charges by the state, makes that individual eligible for release. And since this report stated clearly that some of our corrupt judges have been handing down sentences that is outside the perimeter of what the laws of the land allowed, we are now in a situation where the judiciary that is supposed to interpret the laws with out fear or favours are now the law breakers themselves. Where is our country heading? Laws of the jungle or survival of the fittest.
A laudable initiative. Justice must be open and transparent. There are innocent people languishing in the big house, bambakayaka, last station. I grew up in Brookfields, therefore I know all the names of Pademba Road prison. However, I digress.
The lack of access to justice is a clear violation of the rule of law. A man should be charged for a specific offence, which is a clear breach of the law, and tried expeditiously in a court of law with his peers as a jury. When laws are arbitrarily applied, the result is a lack of certainty as the man on the Waterloo bus has no idea of what may land him in jail.