President Bio appoints Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards as new Chief Justice

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 December 2018:

President Julius Maada Bio has without delay today accepted the resignation of the country’s Chief Justice – Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm, after tendering his letter of resignation yesterday, 18th December 2018.

As reported earlier today, the Sierra Leone Telegraph put forward a strong possibility of president Bio appointing Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards as the new Chief Justice.

And just few hours ago, State House released this statement, announcing the president’s decision to indeed appoint Justice Edwards as successor to Justice Charm. This is the statement:

This statement from State House comes immediately after the Clerk of Parliament had issued a statement recalling members of parliament to an emergency meeting this Friday, at 10am. It is suspected that the reason for the reconvening of parliament is for MPs to approve the president’s appointment of the new chief justice.

“The office of the Clerk of Parliament announces for the information of Members of Parliament in particular, and the general public that: Pursuant to Section 86(1) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone which states:

“The President may at any time summon a meeting of Parliament”: Members of Parliament are summoned to an emergency Sitting of Parliament on Friday 21st December 2018 at 10:00 AM in the Chamber of Parliament. Members of Parliament are particularly encouraged to attend and on time.

“Meanwhile, Members of the Committee on Appointments and the Public Service are summoned to meet on Thursday 20th December 2018 at 2:00 PM in Committee Room No. 1, Parliament Building,” the statement from the Clerk of Parliament concludes.

Although it’s still unclear as to what prompted Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm (Photo: Charm – left, and former president Koroma – right)  to resign as Chief Justice, his decision did not come as a surprise to many in Sierra Leone.

There have been unconfirmed reports of major disagreement between Chief Justice Charm and  senior government ministers, over proposed government reform of Sierra Leone’s judiciary, especially changes which the Bio led government says it regard as key to its revenue mobilisation programme.

It is understood that Justice Charm did not approve proposals put forward for the early retirement of senior judges, as well as the restructuring of the Judiciary – including the appointment of new Supreme Court Judges.

But many in Sierra Leone also regard Charm’s departure as inevitable, given Sierra Leone’s politically polarised public sector, that has become a major hindrance to the country’s development.

Charm has been a champion of the agenda of the former president – Ernest Bai Koroma.

Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm was nominated as Chief Justice by President Ernest Bai Koroma on 28 December 2015 to succeed retired Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh.

His appointment  was  approved by Parliament on 15 January 2016, and was sworn in as Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice on 21 January 2016.

Charm’s successor – Justice Edwards, has had a colourful and impressive career in the Judiciary, and commands the respect of colleagues in the judiciary.

He was appointed a judge of Sierra Leone’s High Court in 2006. From 2007 to 2009 he served as Judge of the High Court’s Commercial and Admiralty Division.

In 2011 to 2014 Justice Edwards served as High Court Judge in charge of Civil and Criminal Matters; and from 2014 to 2015 Resident High Court Judge for the Southern Province.

He was appointed a Justice of the Court of Appeal in 2015. Prior to his appointment as a judge, Justice Edwards served from 2004 to 2006 as the Head of the Litigations Unit for Sierra Leone’s National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), and from 2001 to 2004 he worked as a barrister in private practice.

Justice Edwards also lectured law at the Sierra Leone Law School and Licssal Business College.

On 1st December 2016, Justice Edwards was sworn in as a Judge of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone (RSCSL). (Photo below).

In a ceremony held prior to the opening of the Plenary of Judges of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, Justice Edwards made a solemn declaration to “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, serve as a Judge of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone honestly, faithfully, impartially and conscientiously.”

Two months ago, Justice Edwards presented the government’s proposed budget for the Judiciary, and according to report by Awoko News (3rd October 2018):  “Justice Babatunde Edwards said they are faced with a limited number of judges and magistrates to cover all Magistrate and High Courts in the country.

“Justice Edwards stressed that as the body responsible for ensuring that justice is done, such constraints must be tackled in order to offer speedy trials of cases, which will help the judiciary to maintain its integrity and respect.

“Justice Edwards added that the issue of inadequate judges and magistrate is not only the problem they are faced with but also cited inadequate logistics, furniture and equipment for the effective and efficient running of the courts.

“He underscored the need for funds to undergo regular training abroad in court management, ICT, and record management, so as to keep abreast with international standards. He highlighted that the system of self-accounting used by the judiciary which enables it to use its income it generates was abandoned in 1970s and that the budgetary allocation it depends on is inadequate.

“Justice Edwards pointed out, “The judiciary is in dire need of money. The fact that the judiciary is not receiving adequate funding means the duty of delivering justice is being undermined.”

“The judiciary are asking for Le18 billion for the financial year 2019, but the Ministry of Finance gave them a budget ceiling of Le16 billion, which they should work within in term of their activities for the 2019 fiscal year.”

There is little doubt  Justice Edwards has the pedigree to move forward the necessary reforms for the improvement and overhaul of Sierra Leone’s judiciary, which the Bio led government aspires to achieve.

And this afternoon, president Bio has entrusted Justice Edwards with the mantle of leadership of Sierra Leone’s Judiciary.

He has been appointed Chief Justice, subject to the approval of parliament, and after consultation with members of the Judiciary, in accordance with the country’s Constitution.

If approved on Friday by parliament, Justice Edwards is expected to be sworn-in immediately.

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