Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 November 2018:
It is now seven months since the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) filed High Court injunction writs against a group of opposition All People’s Congress Party (APC) elected members of parliament, for alleged electoral malpractices claimed to have been committed at the March 2018 general elections.
The enforcement of that injunction on APC members of parliament on the day of the opening of parliament, led to ugly and violent disturbances which prompted the clerk of parliament to call in the police to remove large numbers of APC MPs from parliament.
Since then, the case against the APC MPs is yet to be heard by the High court.
This delay is seen by many in the opposition APC as a political ploy by the ruling SLPP to deny the opposition APC of using its majority to control the excesses of the ruling SLPP in parliament.
Furthermore, independent legal observers say that justice delayed is justice denied, and that the ruling SLPP must not be seen to be behaving like the APC when they were in power, if the SLPP is to convince the people of Sierra Leone that it is not only different from the APC, but is in power to make a difference and bring change.
Judiciary Observatory – believed to be a mechanism established for citizen participation, with the objective of strengthening and making the Judicial Branch more transparent, guaranteeing civil rights and criminal prosecution through direct scrutiny by society, says that the case against the APC MPs must now be removed from the High Court and transferred to the Supreme Court, after failure to adjudicate within the four months constitutional limit.
This is what Judiciary Observatory wrote yesterday, Tuesday 14 November 2018:
Does the High Court have discretion to continue with the petition case against members of parliament representing the APC, after the lapse of the four months period stipulated by the constitution?
Does the Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution allow for time extension in matters before the High Court?
The administration of justice which is the focal and foremost function of the judiciary shouldn’t be taken for granted, and we all know the High Court has unlimited original jurisdiction in all criminal and civil matters, as well as appellate jurisdiction against decisions of Magistrate Courts.
Now, Section 78(1) (2) of the constitution clearly states: “The High Court shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine any question whether—
a) any person has been validly elected as a Member of Parliament; and
b) the seat of a Member of Parliament has become vacant.
“(2) The High Court to which any question is brought under subsection (1) shall determine the said question and give judgement thereon within four months after the commencement of the proceedings before that Court.”
This foregoing simply means the High Court is bound to give judgment within four months and cannot extend the time because it will be unconstitutional.
So how can the High Court allow itself to be sentimental at a time like this? The case was brought before the High Court in April. How many months since then?
Yesterday, a battery of lawyers representing the main opposition, applied under section 124(2) of the Constitution for the High Court to refer the matter to the Supreme Court for interpretation.
Section 124(1) of the Constitution stipulates that any issue of interpretation of the Constitution must be done by the Supreme Court.
And since section 78(2) is an issue of interpretation, it is for the High Court to put a halt to the proceedings and refer the matter to the Supreme Court under section 124(2) for interpretation.
In the John Oponjo Benjamin versus Christiana Thorpe case, the Supreme Court struck out the petition because it was filed out of time. It further said it cannot extend the time because the constitution does not allow for time extension.
Under this New Direction, the least we can expect is an impartial dispensation of justice by our judiciary.
We know it’s tough, but like one contributor at the thematic hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), said: “The inspiration is let’s sprint, if we can’t sprint, let’s run, if we can’t run, let’s walk, if we also can’t walk, then let’s crawl, but in any way possible, let’s keep on moving”.
In a nutshell, if High Court no longer has the authority to hear and determine the petition against almost all APC MPs in Western Urban, it should either struck it off or refer to the Supreme Court for interpretation of Section 78 (1) & (2). Please let’s keep moving.
About Judiciary Observatory
Judiciary Observatory is a mechanism established for citizen participation, with the objective of strengthening and making more transparent the Judicial Branch, guaranteeing civil rights and criminal prosecution through direct scrutiny by society.