Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice Charm resigns

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 December 2018:

The Sierra Leone Telegraph this morning learnt that the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone – Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm, has resigned from his job. It is not clear what prompted his resignation, but his decision would not come as a surprise.

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

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

But many in Sierra Leone would 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.

Abdulai Hamid Charm (Photo: Left, with former president Koroma), was nominated as Chief Justice by President Ernest Bai Koroma on 28 December 2015 to succeed retired Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh.

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

The 56 years old Chief Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm was born on 20th July 1962, and is not due for retirement anytime soon. But his early departure today, has prompted questions as to whether he was pushed out of office for political expediency.

Abdulai Hamid Charm was born in the Kambia District in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone. He studied at Fourah Bay College where he was awarded a Bachelor of Laws with Honours in 1990 and was Called to the Bar in October 1991after attending the Sierra Leone Law School

He received a Master of Laws in Human Rights and Democratization in Africa from the University of Pretoria, South Africa in 2000.

But prior to leaving the shores of Sierra Leone for South Africa, Charm worked in Sierra Leone’s  Director of Public Prosecutions Division of the Law Officers’ Department as State Counsel from 1992 to 1999, and then as Senior State Counsel.

In 2001, he co-founded the first legal aid centre in Sierra Leone – the Lawyers Centre for Legal Assistance (LAWCLA) and served as Director of Litigation from 2002 to 2003, and then move on to private practice as a Barrister.

For a period of seven years, starting 2003 to 2010 Charm worked for the Sierra Leone National Revenue Authority (NRA) in various positions, including Principal Collector, Deputy Commissioner, Board Secretariat, and Director of Policy and Legal Affairs, before returning once more to private practice

And in June 2010 he appointed by former president Koroma as a Judge of the High Court of Sierra Leone, and then became a Judge of the Court of Appeal in 2014.

Justice Charm also served as a Judge of the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2013, before his appointment – three years ago, as Chief Justice in December 2015.

Critics of Chief Justice Charm have blamed what they saw as his lacklustre approach in managing the Judiciary, as one of the main reasons for the poor dispensation and politicisation of justice in the country.

But there are many who would argue that irrespective of who is at the helm of Sierra Leone’s judiciary, there will always be problems, as long as the culture of political interference, lack of adequate funding and corruption remain.

It is not certain as to which of the current Supreme Court Judges would replace Justice Charm, but rumours are suggesting the possibility of Justice Babatunde Edwards as his successor.

Justice Edwards has had a colourful and impressive career 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 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 has also lectured in 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). In a ceremony held prior to the opening of the Plenary of Judges, 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.”

It seems Justice Edwards has the pedigree to lead and move forward, the necessary reforms for the improvement and overhaul of Sierra Leone’s judiciary. But it remains to be seen whether president Bio will append his signature to the nomination form.

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