By Theresa Kef Sesay
The July 1, 2020 treason trial verdict of Rtd Major Paolo Conteh has generated discussions among Civil Society activists, journalists, politicians from a broader spectrum. Justice could not have a better definition when there is fairness, moral, a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his or her due from the system, including all rights both natural and legal.
Meritorious credits have been paid to the Jurors for the verdict, with little being said about the Presiding Judge now Justice of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Alhaji Mohamed Momoh-Jah Stevens presided over the treason trial of Rtd Major Paolo Conteh and certainly this is not his first treason trial, maybe. Paolo Conteh’s trial took center stage because he’s a member of the main opposition All Peoples Congress Party (APC) charged with treason. In 2019, Justice Stevens delivered verdict on the treason trial of Captain Kamara who was found guilty of treason by a court martial and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in absentia, and a RSM was also sentenced to 2 years 6 months, while the third accused was acquitted and discharged. Seemingly Sierra Leoneans have shortly forgotten about this trial.
The lens or focus was placed on Rtd Major Paolo Conteh’s trial for all the wrong doings, overt display of insensitive, strangulated independence, political interference and unnecessary delay in legal proceedings. These negative views held, could be attributed to past treason trials in the country and other judicial matters in the country; 1988/1989 former Vice President Francis Minah faced similar capital offense as was with Rtd Major Paolo Conteh, history tells it all how the Minah treason trial ended.
The President Bio led administration has reposed confidence in the Sierra Leonean populace and the international community that Sierra Leone can enjoy Judicial Independence without third party interference and Paolo’s case present a unique opportunity of how independent our Judiciary is and has evolved. This case gives credence to the view held “presumption of innocence before proven guilty and before a competent court of law”.
Prior to his appointment as Justice of the Court of Appeal, Justice Stevens had worked in almost all political districts of Sierra Leone, as Magistrate, Judge and Justice of the Court of Appeal. A key highlights of high profile cases he has presided over are; Emmanuel Sahr Gbeke and Hon. Hariyatu Bangura(002) SLHC 32 (31st May, 2019). The honorable court orders that the 7th March, 2018 General/Parliamentary elections of Hariyatu Bangura of the APC Constituency 116 Western Area is declared null and void in line with Section 78 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act Number 6 of 1991 as being a person receiving salary from the Consolidated Fund failed to resign in good faith 12 months before the 7th March, 2018.
Justice Stevens sometimes in March, 2019 convicted and sentenced Mohamed Mansaray and John Sesay to eleven years imprisonment each for robbery; Mansaray and Sesay were before the court on three Counts of Conspiracy, Robbery, and Larceny Contrary to Section 23 (2) of the Larceny Act 1916.
Plato once asserted that “Justice in the Life and Conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in hearts and souls of the citizens”. This postulation by Plato best describes Justice Stevens. He believes that we are what we repeatedly do and excellence is not just an act but must be a habit. This excellence has been shown in all his years of practice as Magistrate, Judge, and now Justice of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Stevens holds a very sound LLB Honours Bachelor of Law Degree from Fourah Bay College ,University of Sierra Leone. He was called to the Bar on October 8th, 2004 and first appointed as Magistrate on 1st November, 2005. He spent a decade plus as Magistrate in Bonthe’, Kono, Bo, Pujehun, Kenema and Kailahun, Bombali and Koinadugu. Between January, 2016 and June 2020 he was High Court Judge at Ross Road Judicial district, Southern Region Bo, Pademba Road High Court, appointed Judge Advocate Court Martial, 2019 and High Court Judge, Law Court Building Siaka Stevens Street from March 2019 to 25th June, 2020 and appointed Justice Court of Appeal on the 26th June, 2020.
Justice Stevens has done several courses both nationally and internationally. Rtd Major Paolo Conteh was not found guilty on treason charges by the jurors, but was sentenced to two years imprisonment on Count 3, Possession of Small Arms and Ammunition Act Number 10 of 1963 as (amended). The jurors received a plethora of applause for the verdict but what was however not noticed during the trial or reported by the main stream media was that Rtd Major Paolo Conteh’s case was the first expeditious treason trial and reasonably held in Sierra Leone’s Judicial history, and above all, the Jurors returned a verdict upon summing up of the Judge. The just concluded verdict give credence to Marcus Tullius Cicero who once postulated that; “The Safety of the People shall be the highest law”.