June 28, 2019
By Dusuba Koroma
Justice Bankola Thomson, presiding over commissions of Inquiry No. 2 has yesterday 27th June, 2019, ruled that Persons of Interest are not compelled to appear before the commission for the investigation of their assets.
The Judge made this ruling after Counsel for the State, R. B Kowa made an application for those who had served as Ministers and Deputy Ministers in the Ministry of Agriculture are made to appear before the Commission for the investigation of their assets.
In his submission, Lawyer Kowa stated that, he had spoken to counsel representing Persons of Interest, but that there was clear explanation for their appearance.
“Hence, the need for the intervention of your Lordship, taking into consideration Section 7 of the Constitutional Instrument (CI)No. 65 of 2018. I rely on Section 1(1)(a) and (b) of the said sections. It is my submission that these persons are witnesses and can therefore be compelled by this Commission to attend” he emphasized
In his response, Counsel representing Persons of Interest, Lansana Dumbuya submitted that at the initial stage of the COI ‘persons of interest’ were issued a notice of hearing.
Lawyer Dumbuya cited Section 148(1) of the 1991 constitution and added that the enforcement to appear before the commission is for witnesses who may have been the subject of investigation and that persons of interest are subject that are being investigated and they cannot be witnesses for the State.
He drew the attention of the Commission to the High Court Rules that makes a person compellable to give evidence in his own investigation.
He submitted that Sierra Leone’s System of Justice has evolved in large measure from the English Law which states that no man is bound to incriminate himself in any court or tribunal.
The Judge on that note stated that, commissions of Inquiry are vested with the authority to make only non-binding recommendations to the appointing authority.
He therefore ruled that upon the foregoing articulation of the law in the preceding paragraphs and a meticulous and considered interpretation of the intendment and purport Sections of 148 (1) of the Sierra Leone’s Constitution, Act No. 6 of 1991, and Section 7 of the Constitutional Instrument No.65 of 2018, ‘it is my considered view that the regime regulating compellability of ordinary witnesses to testify in legal proceedings is inapplicable to persons of interest’.
“I am fortified in this view by adopting their entirety, the reasoning of my learned and distinguished brother, Sir Hon Justice Georgewill of Commissions of Inquiry No. 1, and his conclusion in his Ruling on the same issue delivered on 30th May 2019, that a person of interest is not and cannot be termed as a witness within the meaning of Section 148 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone 1991 and Section 7 of the CI No. 64 of 2018” he narrated.
The judge agreed with the defence counsel that subjecting persons of interest to the regime of compellability of witnesses would have a manifest violation of their right not to incriminate themselves.