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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

Is the Judiciary Sinking Under the Executive's Weight?
By Citizens Advocate
Sep 7, 2009, 16:49
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When American President Obamas appointed Ambassador at Large for War Crimes, Stephen Rapp told Sierra Leone journalists last week that Sierra Leones Judiciary was under-resourced, the magnitude of his statement might not have really sunk in as many Sierra Leoneans are not au fait with the myriad of problems plaguing our Judiciary both on a moral and a physical level. The moral low was amplified when Judges and Magistrates were arrested for alleged monetary corruption.

Unfortunate results of war and bad governance are neglect of institutions and destruction of Nations moral fibre. Our Judiciary is no exception and will never achieve its laudable aims because it has been neglected. It is quite cash-strapped and is now just a mere shadow of what it should be. Formerly, Judges and their spouses were assured of automatic privileges like First Class Tickets to Europe on vacation. Today, Judges have to virtually crawl on all fours to even get decent local accommodation let alone holiday time in Europe. Someone once whispered to me what the monthly Take-Home salary of the countrys Chief Justice is and I almost wept. Then the same person told me how much a Magistrates monthly salary is and then, I actually shed tears for our poor Magistrates. How in Gods name can we expect Justice when we pay a Magistrate so little?

Ambassador Rapp cited examples of inadequacies like no Internet Access and non-computerisation of services. That, is just the tip of the iceberg. The Judiciary had rotted away morally and physically over the years so badly that even records of recent judicial activities can be virtually impossible to access, let alone start to talk of computerising them.

Internet? Let us start with basics before we move to Internet and Computers. Things were so bad that even toilets and sanitation of the Judiciarys environs had suffered effects of bad governance and strife. When I left Freetown, few months ago, there were attempts to restore adequate water supply solutions but I am not sure if theyve succeeded. Still on the basics, before we speak of Judges flying out on vacation, let us take a look at how to transport Judiciary support staff to and from work on time. War and Mal-governance had led to Judiciary Buses being a memory shared only by long-serving support staff. Staff Buses have been reintroduced in the last few months but despite these and other developments to the credit of the hardworking Chief Justice, Honourable Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh, the fact is that even if Mother Theresa was appointed as Chief Justice, if the political and civil will is not there to help it, the Judiciary will fail.

Time there was in long years gone, when the Judiciary was a sacred place, well-sanitised, orderly and well oiled; with a functioning code of conduct and Judges and Magistrates being well taken care of and kept satisfied by the State. The Registries and Masters Office were fully stocked with all what was needed to run a functioning Judiciary. The Judiciary was self-accounting (meaning it levied fines and used these fines to run its various functions). Today, after decades of war and bad Governance, we have a Judiciary which cannot even be self-accounting but pays its revenue to the National Coffers and then proceeds to go back to beg from the National Coffers for money to carry out its functions. And it depends on whether or not the Finance Minister is in a good enough mood to disburse the required tranche. Why should the Judiciary have to lobby Cabinet Ministers for money to carry out the business of the Judiciary? Is that how to maintain an independent Judiciary? Get the Judiciary to beg Executive for funds to run courts?

Time there was when the late President Siaka Probyn Stevens ensured that Judges did not only get to go on their annual vacations in style but that they actually lived in style with far more affluence relative to the rest of the society. The prestigious Belair Park Judges residences are an example. Even at that level of secured existence, there were suspicions and signs that the Siaka Stevens led Executive back then had some amount of interference in the activities of the Judiciary but never has Executive interference into the Judiciary been as bad as it is today under this present regime of Ernest Bai Koroma!!

Back in the Stevens years, this interference was made all the more glaring when the position of Attorney-General was blended with a specially created Minister of Justice Cabinet position. Since then, interference in the work of the Judiciary by the Executive arm of Government was more the order of the day than the exception. The Minister of Justice was now a Super-Power in the land being that he was the Attorney-General answerable only to himself (not even to the President) and he was also a sitting Cabinet Minister with full executive supervision of all pecuniary matters concerning Judges, Magistrate and the Judiciary, including a say in promotions to Appeals and Supreme Court.

With the twinning of Attorney-General and Justice Minister, the Executive interference into the Judiciary had an unlimited potential to be exercised. However, under Siaka Stevens, serious effort was made to tone down open interference so much so that such interference was more subtly perceived than glaringly experienced. There was no gbang-gbang-o-day [shameless] interference. There was some finesse.

To credit of SLPPs Kabbah, executive interference in the Judiciary was greatly minimised but right now, under President Ernest Bai Koroma, perception of interference has gotten to be widespread because interference is shamelessly done without minuscule of remorse from Executive arm and no-one seems to be able to tell Mr. President that what he is doing is not only shameful to his legacy but a destruction of the democratic culture he inherited from SLPPs Tejan Kabbah. It is a disgrace Mr. President!

This again, is an area in which the Bar Association, Civil Society Organisations and the Opposition are to be faulted for not safeguarding democratic tenets from executive abuse. Strong civil will can re-inforce a political will. This is why it is such a shame that the civil society is so lacking these days back home.

During an ongoing matter at the courts involving a female journalist who angered the President with her penmanship, State House had the temerity to issue out a Press Release saying that the President had summoned members of the justice sector to hold closed-door talks with them a few hours after the Judiciary gave the female journalist lax bail conditions. This closed-door talk was immediately followed the very next morning by the Judiciary suddenly changing the journalists lax bail conditions to an astronomical bail condition that even Gambias Yahya Jammeh had never set against any journalist!

The Le100,000,000 bail had international journalist watchdog, RSF (Reporters without Borders) in Paris, screaming blue-murder against the Judiciary about Judicial Extortion. But, State House sees nothing wrong with such an overt display that causes perceived interference in Judiciary functions.

It seems as if this shameless interference has been a position taken for granted by this President. Just about a year ago, I was still in Sierra Leone and watched over TV as President Koroma, at Opening of a APC party Makeni office, told his kinsmen, with pride, that he had summoned the Chief Justice Tejan Jalloh and the Attorney General Serry Kamal prior to Koroma leaving on a trip to Gambia. He said why he summoned the C.J. and A/G was to threaten them that by the time he came back from Gambia, a certain Nigerian cocaine trafficker who had already been penalised and set free, should be re-arrested and locked up behind bars!

President Koroma had no qualms about saying such words; he even went on to have it broadcasted over National SLBS TV that he had summoned the Chief Justice to threaten her that his own brand of justice should be applied in the corridors of the Judiciary. I dont know if the Nigerian was re-arrested but the Presidents boasts had sent chills down my spine.

Little did I know worse was coming as seen today with this latest development where we are all confronted with the shameful scenario where our Presidency has written a publicised Letter to our journalists proudly announcing the expected time of a Supreme Court ruling in the land when the Supreme Court Registry is yet to send out notices stating such a time! And neither the President himself nor the Judiciarys hierarchy have seen fit to recall or openly condemn the Letter respectively to suit the expected aura of separation of powers we are supposed to be confidently inhaling daily.

Supreme Courts Registry has still NOT sent notices stating any date of the expected ruling. That could, in itself, signify the Judiciarys quiet displeasure with that ill-written Letter from the Presidents Office and signal a looming SLAJ-Presidency showdown come mid-September unless President Koroma, the National Fountain of Honour, quickly orders for the badly drafted Letter to be recalled from SLAJ and re-written to reflect due separation of powers.

Ambassador Stephen Rapp was quite right that the Judiciary was suffering from being under-resourced but the problem goes deeper than just being under-resourced. The problem is the political and civil will to deter executive interference within the Judiciary seems to be lacking all around. This is why the two positions of Attorney-General and Minister of Justice are still entwined as one crown on Serry-Kamals head. This is why the Judiciary cannot be self-auditing but has to rely on the mood of the Minister of Finance to determine if and when it should be replenished with funds. And this is why "Justice Without Fear or Favour", will remain, more a far-fetched dream than a reality for us all.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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