Sierra Leone needs urgent judicial reform

CHRDI: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 January 2019:

The Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) is calling for an overhaul of Sierra Leone’s Judiciary; and immediate action to be taken by government to ensure that the long list of delayed matters before the courts are addressed with the speed, seriousness and fairness it deserves.

CHRDI is aware that many Sierra Leoneans are frustrated and concerned that some matters before the courts have taken more than five years without any judgement being given.

A case in point is the 50th Anniversary corruption case for which no judgement has been given by the Judge for almost 7 years now.

Moreover, many land cases are still pending in the court without any judgement being given. Some litigants have died during the course of their case, whilst awaiting judgement.

The delays in cases before the courts have largely been attributed to the inefficiency of some judges who are way past retirement age, coupled with a shortage of judges. This has increased the work load of the few judges left.

We are of the conviction that to have only 24 working judges for a country of seven million people is a recipe for injustice on a grand scale.

We are therefore strongly recommending that the new Chief Justice – Justice Edwards and the Government of Sierra Leone  appoint new judges to serve the populace.

Furthermore, CHRDI is calling on the government of Sierra Leone to look seriously into the  following:

648 Criminal cases pending in the High Court as at March 2018; 737 civil cases pending; 33 Criminal cases reserved with no judgement; 122 civil cases reserved; and the 1,540 cases currently being heard by 24  judges.

We believe that the continued detention of these citizens is unlawful, a violation of their human dignity and destroying their lives.

To detain citizens without charges or judgements and with no regard for due process is in clear violation of the laws of Sierra Leone and a contravention of international Human Rights Law.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment. All defendants have the rights to a fair trial.

In Sierra Leone today, people are held without due process and prisoners are convicted in unfair trials. Corruption is undermining the judicial systems in the country and denying citizens access to justice and the basic human right to a fair and impartial trial, sometimes even to a trial at all.

In Sierra Leone, if you are poor, your right to justice through the legal system is often denied. If you don’t have money for lawyers, it is hard to get justice.

We perceive a situation where it may seem like the law is for the rich, because they have money to ‘buy’ justice.

Although we have the Legal Aid Board (LAB) to address the unfair justice system in the country, we still have many citizens who are unable to access justice in both the urban and rural areas of the country.

The Constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but CHRDI believes that the judiciary has not always been independent and has acted under government influence for the past several years, particularly in corruption-related cases.

We deem Political interference as when politicians or staff from the Legislative or Executive branch meddle in judicial affairs or collude with judges in fraudulent schemes.

We have evidence of rampant Political interference in the judicial process by the Legislative or Executive branches in the recent past and are very worried that this has become quite common place.

The importance of an independent judiciary cannot be overemphasised, as everyone loses when justice is corrupted. The poor and vulnerable citizens who are forced to pay bribes they cannot afford are particularly affected.

We also find it very troubling that despite several efforts by the country’s development partners to isolate the judiciary from politics, Judges and other court personnel still face significant pressure to rule in favour of powerful political or business entities rather than in accordance with the laws of Sierra Leone.

A malleable judiciary can even be used by those in power to provide protection for and lend legitimacy to fraudulent acts. Judges might also collude with politicians in a variety of different white-collar crimes, such as extortion, money laundering and embezzlement.

In the light of the above, we at CHRDI urge the government of Sierra Leone to urgently repair the judicial system.  We need a workable system that would provide for corrupt Judges to be removed speedily rather than been allowed to use their offices to make poor Sierra Leoneans suffer injustice.

The need for new judges with integrity and efficiency cannot be over-emphasised and action must be taken now, if the Judiciary is to regain its former glory.

About Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI)

Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) is a Rights based Public social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDI is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.

3 Comments

  1. Well stated by you guys. The absence of a fair judicial system for all in society, irrespective of status, financial standing, ethnic and political affiliations, is always a threat to peace and stability in such a society.

    I think the advocacy group should press government to have committed public defenders throughout the country. Meanwhile, having only 24 judges to serve a population of 7 Million is not only ridiculous but bizarre.

  2. This is very well said Herbert. Sierra Leone, more than ever, is at a crossroads. Indeed, are all of our political leaders – irrespective of party colour ready to make the change? Sierra Leone’s political leadership must share the immense responsibility, that is now before them.

    The risks are high and the challenges are great, but the fruits of success could be very sweet for the country’s 7 million population. No one should deny the facts you have succinctly stated, that: “Without justice there can be no lasting peace. Without the rule of law, our private sector will continue to stall; with the parallel justice system in the country we will continue to wallow in the low-level equilibrium we are now in.”

    But are the political leaders prepared to set aside selfishness, greed and deep rooted partisanship for the good and love of country, and the need as you say – “to change our current predicament” which, “requires boldness, sacrifice and determination?”

    I am not convinced that they are prepared, let alone willing to do so. Sierra Leone needs a new approach in the way we do politics, if such change is to come anytime soon – perhaps after you and I have long gone Herbert?

    I say this, not to sound pessimistic, but realistic. The current government says it is pursuing its agenda of bringing to book, those they believe to have misgoverned the nation.

    Is this justice? Yes, if there are prima-facie evidence of significant wrongdoing it is justice. But there has to be fairness and equity.

    And if it can be done within the confines and ambit of the rule of law, with the required “boldness, sacrifice and determination” you mentioned – from all sides of the political spectrum, then the private sector should have little to fear and the economy can begin to thrive once again.

    If by parallel justice system you are alluding to the commission of inquiry, then this speaks to the distrust that many in the former government have, of the government, which must be dealt with by the president, if he is to build confidence.

    Commissions of inquiry by themselves and in themselves are not inherently exclusive of the justice system. They are meant to augment the judiciary and create and provide the space for investigations to be conducted, which may or may not lead to judicial hearing in a court of law.

    But also important, is that, commissions of inquiry are like judicial or public administration reviews, meant in part to discover systemic failings and shortcomings that are in need of repair or change.

    I do hope therefore that the SLPP government will face the problems that need fixing, with “boldness, sacrifice and determination”, but more importantly without vindictiveness and vengeance. If not, Sierra Leone will forever remain locked into the spiral of morass that has engulfed the nation since the 1970s.

    As editor, I don’t normally reply to comments, but this is a rare exception. Thank you and God bless.

  3. Without justice there can be no lasting peace. Without the rule of law, our private sector will continue to stall; with the parallel justice system in the country we will continue to wallow in the low-level equilibrium we are now in. To change our current predicament requires boldness, sacrifice and determination.

    Are our leaders ready?

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