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Raising the BAR

July 26, 2016 By Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk)

At the Bar here, they say one’s sex is very much irrelevant. That is probably why since it was founded in 1827 only three women have led the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA). The last time they had a woman President was some 20 years ago in 1996/97 in the person of Mrs Hannah Ahmed. Before her, there was Ms Francess Wright. Early June this year, at their Annual General Meeting 2016, members of SLBA accorded another woman, Rhoda Sufian-Kargbo Nuni, the opportunity to lead them as the Association strives to restore its reputation of being perhaps the most reasoned professional sect of society and with such enviable panache.

Having served once as Vice President of the Bar in her 14-15 years as legal practitioner and in various committees, and a member of the Bar of Ontario, Canada, Rhoda believes she comes with a wealth of national and international experience, integrity, competence, acumen, charisma and the ability to take SLBA to a higher level.

Beyond that, she worked as a Legal Officer in the Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone from 2007 to 2009, when she was promoted to Senior Legal Officer, a position she held until 2013 when the Special Court for Sierra Leone wound up its operations. She is currently a Partner in the law firm of Jenkins-Johnston & Co and Consultant Senior Legal Adviser to the President and Chambers of the Special Court’s Residual Body – the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone. Between 2010 and 2012 she taught International Criminal Law, Procedure and Practice, pro bono, at the Sierra Leone Law School. She currently serves as one of SLBA’s representatives on the Law Reform Commission. She is also the Chairperson of Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (L.A.W.Y.E.R.S). Just after she was elected president of the SLBA, she was appointed Notary and Commissioner for Oaths.

However, my foremost question is what will her presidency actually bring to the Bar in terms of its membership, practice, values and service to the public?

“My leadership will support and protect the character, status and interest of the profession in Sierra Leone. The welfare and wellbeing of our members is at the heart of my program as this is listed as the very first object in our Memorandum of Association. My Executive will concern itself with and prioritize matters directly or indirectly affecting the three most vital dimensions of our career – the Profession, the Practice and the Person,” Rhoda says, adding that her leadership will jealously guard the ethics of the legal profession and will endeavor to instill them in the newest colleagues with guidance.

Breaking this down, Rhoda said her approach will be two-fold: (i) matters affecting the proper administration of justice and (ii) the introduction of SLBA Member Benefits. Under the first rubric, she wants to reform the central filing room in the main Law Courts building to solve the perennial challenge of files being delayed or allegedly gone missing. She proposes a system whereby a single filing room clerk signs a register upon receipt of a file and will be responsible for keeping track of that file until its exit from the filing room. She further proposes an alternate day work schedule for staff to reduce inefficiency due to them working long hours, and advocate for an improvement in the overall conditions of service of the filing room staff.

There is also the thorny issue of justice being denied many accused persons on a daily basis as a result of the unnecessary delay in delivering judgments. A lot of accused persons have spent long periods languishing in correctional centers across Sierra Leone because of such delays. Rhoda proposes what she calls ‘workable solutions’ to this challenge: the recruitment of colleagues of between 1 to 3 years Post-Call to serve as Clerks or Legal Officers and be assigned to Judges to assist them with preparatory/background work on cases as well as with legal research on the issues. She describes this as international best practice that will help produce landmark judgments in record time. Beyond that she believes this approach can also serve a dual purpose of providing pupilage for newly-called barristers.

Furthermore, she will re-establish and strengthen the Rules of Court Committee, the SLBA’s Disciplinary Committee and Law Reporting.

How she is going to achieve all of this, Rhoda says she will engage the Judiciary to seek short-term solutions to some of the causes of the disorder whilst engaging for more permanent solutions.

In the area of SLBA membership welfare and wellbeing,Rhoda assures that her Executive will explore and institute measures that will enhance membership and encourage better participation in the Association’s activities. A full register of all lawyers licensed to practice in Sierra Leone will be listed on the Association’s website; partnerships will be established with other organizations such as internet and mobile service providers for discounted rates to members; a “Young Lawyers Welfare Committee” will be set up to enable younger colleagues better integrated into the profession; links will be re-established with the West African Bar Association and other Bar Associations in the sub-region as well as elsewhere (such as the Canadian Bar Association) to explore opportunities for partnerships, scholarships and other opportunities for members of the SLBA.

In addition she says the SLBA will continue to be very much involved in the Constitutional Review (CRC) process until its conclusion, will form partnerships with the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists to explore avenues for public education on legal rights and obligations and other legal issues that call for national attention, and will seek strategic partnerships with other credible national and international NGOs concerned with human rights, the rule of law and good governance in Sierra Leone and Africa. On the internationally front, she will ensure that the SLBA gains observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPRs), an issue for which she had already engaged her Commissioner colleague on the ACHPRs as to the required steps to be taken to achieve this.

Perhaps most critical is the issue of voice and independence of the Bar. Despite commendable achievements in a lot of areas, Rhoda’s predecessor was criticized by most of his colleagues, and even sections of the public, in that regard.However, she maintains that under her leadership theSLBA will continue to be a beacon of the rule of law and the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Sierra Leone.

“We will remain vocal on these issues as well as the voice on legal issues affecting our nation. We will ensure that the Association deals with such issues when they arise in a balanced, measured and dispassionate manner bearing in mind that posterity will judge us on them,” Rhoda says, adding that her leadership is ready to deliver and to take objective position(s) on germaine legal, political and social national (as well as regional) issues.

“My leadership of the Bar will be without any trace of external interference. Our voice will be heard in all quarters devoid of any attachment or sentimentality,” she further assures.

Building on the achievements of her predecessor, Rhodas says: “One thing that will be my priority in the next 12 months is the construction of the Sierra Leone Bar Association secretariat on the piece of land which we now have (legacy of Ibrahim Sorie led Executive). My aim is to jump-start the project as soon as possible.”

On the eve of her elections, rumours were rife that she was going to be appointed to serve on the Bench, but Rhoda was swift to respond that she was not aware of any pending political appointment.

“While I will be honoured to continue service to my profession and country on the Bench someday, I am not leaving the Bar to join the Bench in the near future. Furthermore, I am not aware of any pending political appointment. I do not belong to any political party and I am not a politician,” she affirms.

Rhoda is married to Mr Shekou Ansumana Nuni and they are blessed with children.