Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 May 2015
The long awaited Supreme Court ruling into whether an injunction should be granted, preventing Victor Bockarie Foh from continuing to serve as vice president of Sierra Leone was delivered today.
After exactly four weeks of deliberations, the five Judges unanimously decided that it would be unsafe for the highest court in the land to demand the removal of the vice president from office.
The Acting Chief Justice Valesius Thomas, who also chairs the panel of supreme court judges made up of justices Nicholas Browne Marke, Eku Roberts, Patrick Hamilton and Vivian Solomon, said today that he sees “very grave consequences for the whole nation, if the office of the vice president is left vacant.”
This rather surprising conclusion which was also echoed by the other four judges, will no doubt provoke serious debates among constitutional lawyers, in and out of Sierra Leone.
At the heart of the judges’ conclusion is the question as to whether the Constitution of Sierra Leone does make provision for the Speaker of parliament to act as vice president until such time the vacancy is filled, so as to prevent what the judges refer to as “grave consequences for the whole nation”, should the office be left vacant.
Today’s verdict is bound to leave campaigners for the reinstatement of the sacked vice president Sumana, accusing the Supreme Court judges of political bias.
Lawyer J.B Jenkins Johnston who is the lead counsel for the Plaintiff – former vice president Chief Alhaji Samuel Sumana, was seeking an interlocutory injunction to restraint Mr. Victor Bockarie Foh from acting as and, or carrying out the functions of the vice president of Sierra Leone, pending the determination of the matter before the Supreme Court, in respect of the action of the president to “relieve” him from the office of vice presidency.
But lawyers Ajibola Manley-Spaine acting as the lead counsel for the 2nd Respondent Victor Foh, and Berthan Macauley (Jr) – serving as the lead counsel for the Attorney General – the 1st Respondent, have argued that Sumana’s lawyers have not satisfied the court of any justifiable and reasonable grounds for an injunction to be granted.
At the heart of this Supreme Court case, is the question as to whether president Koroma acted unconstitutionally, when he unilaterally set aside the relevant sections of the country’s Constitution in deciding to relieve the elected vice president of his duties.
When this matter was brought before the Supreme Court on the 6th April 2015, few in Sierra Leone trusted that the judges will grant an injunction, given the current politically charged atmosphere in Sierra Leone.
In arriving at their ruling, it would seem that the five most senior judges in the country, have relied less on the legality, constitutionality and equity of the arguments posed by Sumana’s lawyers, but more on the political context and consequences.
This is bound to reinforce the very negative perception and distrust that people generally have in Sierra Leone about the independence of the judiciary.
Each of those five judges were personally endorsed and appointed by president Koroma after they were nominated by the outgoing substantive Chief Justice Umu Tejan Jalloh, as Supreme Court Judges.
Hence cynics will question whether Sam Sumana will ever obtain justice, when the wider, substantive issue of president Koroma’s decision to sack Sumana from office is looked at by the same Supreme Court Judges, starting Tuesday, 12th May 2015.
The substantive matter before the Supreme Court is in pursuant to Sections 124 and 127 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone No. 6 of 1991, namely :-
(1) For a determination of the following questions to wit; (a) Whether the Constitution of Sierra Leone empowers the PRESIDENT “to relieve the Vice-President of his Office and duties” in any way Other than by the procedure set out in Sections 50 and 51 of the said Constitution.
(b) Where the “Supreme executive authority” of the President mentioned in Section 40 (1) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone includes the power to “relieve the Vice-President of his Office and duties”, other than by the procedure set out in Sections 50 and 51 of the said Constitution.
If the Answer to the questions above are NO, then the plaintiff will seek the following further reliefs:
(i) For a declaration that the Public Notice announcing that the Vice President had been relieved of his duties and office (Exhibit A herein) is unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect.
(ii) For a declaration that the appointment of Victor Bockarie Foh as Vice President of Sierra Leone is also unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect.
(iii) For an injunction restraining the said Victor Bockarie For from acting in the Office of the Vice-President of Sierra Leone, pending the hearing and determination of this action.
(iv) For a declaration that the Elected Vice-President of Sierra Leone (the Plaintiff herein) remains in Office as Vice President thereof unless and until removed from Office as required by Section 50 and 51 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone.
Political observers say that whilst today’s landmark decision by the Supreme Court with regard to request to grant injunction may have thrown Sam Sumana’s political ambition within the ruling APC party into oblivion, it will certainly be regarded as another nail on the coffin of constitutional justice and the rule of law in Sierra Leone.