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Bar Association in disarray over Commissions of Inquiry

January 8, 2019

By Patrick Jaiah Kamara

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President Basita Michael, this is thorny for you

The seeming division within the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) yesterday came to light as members disagreed on a thorny constitutional issue regarding the upcoming Commissions of Inquiry.

While the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) yesterday issued a statement signed by the Vice President, Derek Beoku-Betts, informing the public about a constitutional matter filed Supreme Court against the government regarding the commissions of inquiry, some concern bar members have condemned the action taken by the Executive of the association and called on them to discontinue their action.

According to the release earlier signed by the vice president, the association was seeking declaration that by Section 150 of the 1991 Constitution, the Rules of Court Committee, established by Section 145 of the said constitution, is the sole authority empowered and authorised in the country to make rules governing the practice and procedure of all Commissions of Inquiry.

The Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, the Rules of Court Committee and Justice Biobele George Will, Bankole Thompson and William Annan Atuguba, are the defendants in the matter.

The association, however, noted in the press statement that they ‘remain fully supportive of a fair and independent Commissions of Inquiry aimed at bringing to account all those involved in corrupt practices.’

They noted that the proceeding instituted was meant to ensure that there was clarity and certainty pertaining to the rules of practice and procedure governing the commissions of inquiry.

“It is our hope that this case would help bring out greater consistency in the work of the commissions and save them from protracted argument and unnecessary waste of time and resources in the future,” the release states.

The SLBA has also urged the Chief Justice and Chairman of the Rules of Court Committee to convene a meeting of the said committee for the purpose of carrying out its mandate and fulfilling its duties under Section 150 of the constitution.

Meanwhile, the SLBA has sought among others, a declaration to the effect that Rules of Court Committee under the constitution is the sole body authorized by the constitution to make the rules regarding the practice and procedure of all commissions of inquiry including, but without limited to the commissions of inquiry established under Chapter 9 of the Constitution.

They also sought a declaration that paragraph 6 of Constitutional Instrument No.64,65 and 67 establishing three separate commissions of inquiry (Examination, Inquiry and Investigative)  violates, offends and contravenes Section 150 of the 1991 Constitution, in that the same was not made by the Rules of Court Committee and are therefore null and void.

The association further sought that an order of mandamus be issued compelling the Rules of Court Committee to make the rules regulating the practice and procedure as provided for under Section 150 of the Constitution for the said Commissions of Inquiry established by Constitutional Instrument No. 64, 65 and 67.

They are also seeking an order restraining the 3rd 4th and 5th defendants their servants agents and privies or whosever otherwise and/or staying any proceedings from being commenced, continued, proceeded with pending the making of rules for the regulating of the practice and procedure of the Commissions of Inquiry established by Constitutional Instruments No.64,65 and 67.

The concern bar members dissociated themselves from the ‘purported’ press statement and noted that the action of the bar executive was intended to frustrate the efforts of government to bring to book persons who were alleged to have misappropriated public funds.

They stated that the release did not represent the views of the majority of the membership of the association.

The release from the concern members notes that there was no general meeting or an extraordinary general meeting called in which the said decision was reached, and charged  that it was in total contravention of Rule 19 of the association’s Memorandum and Articles of Association.

“In as much as the executive may act on behalf of the membership on very minor issues, we firmly hold the belief that an issue hinging on constitutional interpretation and determination by the Supreme Court cannot be deemed under any circumstance to be a minor issue, and therefore we would have expected that an extraordinary General Meeting convened has been the practiced,” the release said.

This is not the first time the bar association has disagreed on national issues bordering on constitutionality.