Standards in Sierra Leone’s judiciary fall to an all-time low – lawyer Margai speaks out in court

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 August 2020:

Veteran lawyer and one-time presidential aspirant – Barrister Charles Francis Margai lashed out in Magistrate Court No. 1 last Friday, August 14th 2020, at the deplorable decline in judiciary standards and increasing sloppiness and recklessness of Sierra Leone government’s law officers in administering justice.

The learned and one of the most respected barristers in the country, spoke in anger and frustration, after Magistrate Hannah Bonnie presiding over the government’s seditious libel case against Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, had to adjourn sitting once again because the police prosecutor, witness and government law officers failed to appear in court.

“Lawyer Margai, I have listened to you and let me say it now that if there is no witness at the next adjourned date, I am assuring you that I will throw this matter out of this court. Although the Criminal Procedure Act does not state how many times a matter can be adjourned without progress on the part of the prosecution, I always use my discretion to ensure accused persons are not made to suffer prolonged hearings due to the prosecution failing to bring witnesses.

“I am adjourning this matter for ten days until 24th August which is a Monday. If on that Monday, no witness is here to testify against Dr. Sylvia Blyden, I will throw this matter out and discharge her from Court on all charges,” Magistrate Hannah Bonnie told lawyer Charles Margai.

According to lawyer Margai who has served Sierra Leone as a lawyer for 50 years, the standards in justice delivery have dropped in a manner “far below what we used to condemn just five years ago”.

When the case was called last Friday, there was not even a police prosecutor present in court.  Also, there was no Witness present. What is even worse was that, the government’s lawyer handling the case, Yusif I. Sesay Esq. was also absent without courtesy of an apology to the Bench or to Lawyer Margai to explain why.

Similarly, when the magistrate enquired as to whether any Witness was around who had been summoned by the State to testify for the State in that matter, there was silence. It was at this point that Lawyer Charles Margai stood up and requested to be heard.

In open court, Lawyer Margai made it very clear that standards within the justice sector have dropped badly under the current SLPP led dispensation to a level hitherto unseen in-country.

Lawyer Margai was angered by the lack of respect shown to the court by the State lawyer who could not even be bothered to send apologies to the court. He said that what he and others used to condemn over five years ago under the former Koroma APC government – regarding poor standards in the Justice Sector, have worsened under the current government.

Immediately after winning the 2018 elections, President Julius Maada Bio appointed Lawyer Charles Margai to serve as his first Attorney General and Minister of Justice (AGMOJ) to help clean up the country’s justice sector. (Photo: Margai swearing his oath of office).

However, within few months of appointing Margai as AGMOJ, President Bio sacked Margai without giving Margai a chance to reform the justice sector.

President Bio on sacking Margai, went on to appoint Dr. Priscilla Schwartz as his new AGMOJ. However, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz was also sacked a few weeks ago because of incompetence. She has been described as “the worst Attorney General in entire history of Sierra Leone”.  President Bio went on to appoint Barrister Anthony Y. Brewah, who is now in control of the government’s law officers department.

Meanwhile, Magistrate Hannah Bonnie has adjourned the “State versus Sylvia Blyden” matter for another ten days to August 24th, 2020 whilst openly expressing her concerns over the consecutive lack of progress by the government’s law officers department.

Dr Sylvia Blyden (Photo) who is aspiring to enter the presidential race in Sierra Leone at some point, was charged with Seditious Libel against President Julius Maada Bio and the Bio/SLPP-led Government on May 22nd, 2020.

Following her arrest, the government ordered the Judiciary to keep Blyden in jail on grounds that the alleged seditious libel against the President is a “threat to national security”.

After three months of proceedings, the State is yet to tender any evidence of the so called ‘Blyden’s threat to national security’ trumped-up by the government.

What the government’s law officers have so far tendered in court as evidence is a large portrait of the former president Ernest Bai Koroma which they alleged was found in the private residence of Dr. Sylvia Blyden.

The State is yet to show the court how possession of the former president’s portrait tantamount to a breach of national security.

The case continues.

6 Comments

  1. Under Tejan Kabba, Sierra Leone was never ruled by the SLPP. It was more of a coalition government. Ernest Bai Koroma’s rule was a tribalised APC and under Maada Bio, we now have a genuine SLPP government.

  2. The criminal justice system is a complete joke. The seditious libel criminal law has been repealed and see no reason why the court should not throw the matter out. This government seems to be spending a lot of time going after its perceived political foes rather than running the country. If people do not want to be criticised then they should leave politics and join another profession as you cant have it both ways. Freedom of expression is guaranteed under our laws and we will continue to hold governments to account.

    I am not a fan of Sylvia Blyden but one thing you cant take from her is her ability to call things as she sees them which have brought her in collision with even her own party. As rightly mentioned in some of the posts the only reason why Charles Maggai will not be in government is because he will not allow himself to be a yes man.

  3. Charles Margai is one of those rare beast in politics, or public servants that speak with candour and has the distinct personality that speaks straight out of their heart, without care in the world who they offend. Our own very straight talker that believes in the Sierra Leone project. Charles Margai, PERHAPS THE BEST PRESIDENT SIERRA LEONE NEVER HAD! The truth shall be spoken. And when all is said and done, that’s what we are seeking in this trial of Dr. Sylvia Bylden. Nevertheless, under president Bio’s new direction, or all direction government, we are far from getting there. In military code of practice, taking absence without leave, or better choice of words – desertion, carries a maximum punishment of dishonorable discharge from the army and forfeiting of all pay and a prison term of five years.

    This disgraceful prosecution team should shut up. Usually, if the defendant misses a court date, or your lawyer or agent fails to show up on your behalf, the judge will issue a court order or a warrant for your arrest. If the police then apprehend you, the judge will deny you bail, or put stiffer bail conditions for your release until your next court date. But here is the state prosecution, that are so intoxicated with power, that is abusing the process. Do us a favour, throw this case out against Dr. Blyden.

    We knew from the outset the prosecution case is built on lies, conjecture and innuendo. The problem you are hiding behind your rat holes, because you don’t want to admit you made a big cock-up. Stop wasting public funds, there are more pressing issues affecting our country – COVID19 and corruption. May God bless Sierra Leone.

  4. Sierra Leone under the new direction of president Bio is a dictator government working in their own interests and doomed the country to zero in every aspect of living

  5. I must confess that I am an admirer of Charles Margai as a public figure, I don’t know him personally. The man is a fighter and fearless. He has become the legal conscience of the nation, besides being a politician who only cares about his Sierra Leone and her welfare – tribe or ethnicity plays no role in his thinking. This was perhaps the main reason why Maada Bio got rid of him as Attorney-general, not to mention the fact that the man would have advocated for a clean government.

    Now Maada is surrounded by yes men and women who are qualified thieves, bullies and victimisers; their selfishness is palpable. No wonder the administration is not making any discernible progress. Had Maada kept Mr Margai the latter would have served as a check on the excesses of the administration.

    We are now having a glimpse of a formidable, no-nonsense Charles Margai in the court room. His opponents are scared to appear because they know that he would shred them to pieces for the public to see that their legal qualification is only suitable in the arena of mob and gutter justice. What else can explain their constant absence from the courtroom? Charles Margai and similarly minded people stand out as the people who any administration needs for unqualified success.

  6. I am not sure how much could be expected from a pompous, egotistical bunch who considered themselves as gods, hence must be praise-sing and worshipped, albeit their obvious incompetence. Wisdom always teaches us to avoid taking hasty decisions whenever we encounter a daunting challenge that invokes extreme emotional reaction, since doing so will mostly result in disappointing results. Driven by their tribalistic instincts with an overdosed political vendetta, the POAPA extremists thrive on chaos and making ill-advised decisions along with propagandist statements. Now midway past their governance tenure, the citizens of Sierra Leone are forced to reckon with all unmet campaign promises, with almost every economic indicator and those of the rule of law, justice, peace, faring worst off.

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