November 22, 2017 By Regina Pratt & Hassan Gbassay Koroma
The Judiciary of Sierra Leone has officially launched a compendium of electoral laws to enable judges preside over electoral malpractices before, during and after multitier elections slated for March next year.
The National Electoral Commission had reported they were investigating over 1,000 people suspected to have engaged in malpractices during the registration process for the 2018 elections. The Commission pleaded with the judiciary to set up special electoral offences court with jurisdiction be try people involved in electoral malpractice.
Speaking yesterday at the launching ceremony, attended by Supreme, Appellate and High Court Judges, Chief Justice Abdulai Charm said they were launching a compendium of electoral laws in Sierra Leone with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
He said the launch of the compendium is one of activities the judiciary has undertaken as part of preparation for smooth and effective operation of the electoral offences court, ahead of the 2018 elections.
“I appointed ten judges on 11th October, 2017 to preside over the electoral courts all over the country. They included three resident judges in Makeni for the North, Kenema for the east and Bo for the south. If there is reasonable number of offences in the new province of north-west, I will appoint another resident judge for Port Loko,” he said.
Chief Justice Cham noted that on 31 October, he had appointed Justice Monfred Momoh Sesay, Justice of the Appeals Court, as supervisor of the electoral offences court, adding that Justice Sesay had already constituted a small committee of relevant stakeholders and one of the outcome of their work is the compendium.
He said the compendium does not only contain the relevant electoral laws but also related laws such as the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone, the Public Order Act of 1965, the High Court Rules of 2007, among others.
“It is my view and hope that the laws which are contained in the compendium would serve as quick reference materials for all users, including the judges and the counsel to enhance expeditious trials of those matters that would come up,” he said.
He urged the ten selected judges to enhance effective and speedy trials, saying that efficient and speedy trials are not only needed for quick dispensation of justice but to quickly diffuse tension and passion that could spark elections disputes.
He said the work of the supervising judge, Hon. Justice Monfred Sesay, will be limited to administrative support to the courts and that each judge should be independent and responsible for their respective decision, while any dissatisfied party has right of appeal to the Court of Appeal.
He said the electoral offences courts will be solely concerned with criminal matters as designated in the Public Elections Act of 2012 and petitions that may come up from paramount chieftaincy and parliamentary elections.
UNDP’s Country Representative, Samuel Doe, said electoral justice is one of the common tools of democracy to safeguard the value of electoral processes and political right of all citizens.
He said it has the fundamental role to strengthen democracy, and commended the Judiciary for bringing together judges, magistrates, court clerks and other staff members to the occasion.
“Electoral justice should be seen as impartial and the Judiciary plays a central role in increasing the centre stage of democracy,” he said.
The UNDP country representative further said his institution also provides technical support to institutions like the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) and Legal Aid Board (LAB) as part of the electoral circle of Sierra Leone.