By John Baimba Sesay
The parliamentary leader of the main opposition All People’s Congress, Hon Chernor Maju Bah, has bemoaned the increasing lack of justice in the country. In an exclusive interview with this writer, Hon. Chernor Maju Bah (Chericoco) lamented that “confidence in the Judiciary of Sierra Leone is at an all time low”.
The opposition leader, fondly called Chericoco, himself a lawyer of high standing and one time Deputy Speaker of Parliament, was reacting to the Chief Justice’s failure to assign critical constitutional cases for hearing. In particular, Hon. Chericoco spoke about the appeals brought forward by opposition MPs over what he called “their illegal removal from Parliament”.
It followed what many described as an infamous High Court ruling on a petition filed by the ruling SLPP against some elected APC Members of Parliament. The ruling paved the way for the removal from Parliament of about ten opposition MPs.
The APC appealed the ruling and the Hon Maju Bah said, the appeals were filed on June 10th, 2019, well within the timeframe given by the court to do so. But four months on, the said cases have not been assigned, contravening Section 78 (4), of 1991 Constitution.
The relevant provision states that ‘The Court of Appeal shall determine an appeal and give judgement thereon within 4 months after the appeal was filed’.
“Sadly, the four months period to empanel and hear our appeals expired on October 10th, 2019 as a result of deliberate failure on the part of our judiciary,” fumed the APC parliamentary leader.
Hon. Chernor Maju Bah also said the failure by the Chief Justice to assign these cases is a clear and inexcusable violation of the Constitution and that this inaction has put a slur on the country’s already dim rated judiciary.
“The more the Chief Justice suppresses justice in the country, the more illegality thrives in Sierra Leone,” said the APC Parliamentary Leader.
Hon Bah further asserted that such brazen miscarriage of justice, of a Chief Justice deliberately refusing to assign cases that are against the government, is unprecedented. “The right to hearing was always guaranteed under the democratic governments of Late President Ahmed Tejan Kabba and former President Ernest Bai Koroma,” said the visibly angry opposition leader.
Hon Bah goes on to state that what the Chief Justice is perpetuating amounts to a violation of the rights of citizens to free, fair and impartial hearings as per the provisions of Section 23 of Act No 6 of the 1991 Constitution.
Hon. Sirajin Rollings-Kamara, one of the APC MPs affected by the ruling and who was removed from Parliament, recently expressed similar sentiments of disappointment and lack of confidence in the judiciary.
In an open Letter to the Chief Justice, Hon. Rowlings-Kamara said, since their appeals have not been assigned, he and his colleagues would seek justice somewhere else, an apparent reference to the West African Court Of Justice.
The APC MPs are not the only ones disappointed with the Judiciary. One time Attorney General and one of Sierra Leone’s best known international jurists, Abdulai O. Conteh has also chimed in. In a social media (whatsapp) post this writer has seen, Conteh, in responding to Hon. Rawlings-Kamara’s open letter, said, it’s a shame that the MP had to resort to an open letter on such an important matter.
Referring to the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which found lack of access to justice as one of the factors for the Sierra Leone’s decade long war, Conteh lamented that it was unfortunate that the judiciary has still not learnt its lessons.
It could be recalled that apart from the appeals in question, the opposition All People’s Congress had petition cases filed against Members of Parliament of the ruling SLPP, which the Judiciary has also failed to hear while similar petitions filed by the SLPP have long been ruled upon. In fact, it’s the ruling on those SLPP petitions that the APC had filed the appeal.
Again, following the April 2018 Presidential run off, the APC and a few of its senior members also filed petitions against the elections results, those too, have never been assigned.
Other infractions include what appears to be a pattern of denial of bail to APC supporters arraigned before the courts on issues relating to political activity.
The outburst by the opposition APC leader in Parliament comes in the wake of a proposed bi-partisan meeting on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019 between the APC and the SLPP to look into several long drawn infractions which the main opposition APC believes the ruling party has committed against it and its members.
This proposed meeting followed a summit almost two months ago at State House, between President Julius Maada Bio and former President Koroma. The objective of the summit, according to a joint communique by the two parties, was, among other things, to foster dialogue, peace and national cohesion.