Treason trial: Defense’s No Case Submission Trashed

June 17, 2020

By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

Rtd. Maj. Palo Conteh is facing the court for treason charges

Justice Alhaji Momoh-Jah Stevens has trashed the no-case submission made by the defense counsel on behalf of Retired Major Alfred Palo Conteh and Saa Anthony Sinnah, who are before the High Court for treason and other related offences.

The judge urged the lawyers to open their defence, noting that both sides must be heard.

“The simple message I want to send out loud and clear is that, the other side must be heard,” he told the lawyers.

The judge said a no case submission is the process where an accused sought a discharge and if granted by the Bench, it would mark the end of that trial.

He said the second accused was not charged separately in count 7 as stated in the defense’s no case submission.

The judge decided not to delve into the claim made by the defense on the lack of jurisdiction to hear the matter and the absence of Overt Act, noting that he had earlier ruled on it.

On Monday, June15th, lead defense counsel, Dr. Abdulai Osman Conteh, representing the first accused in the trial, made a no case submission on behalf of his client.

He said the defense team of the first accused objected to the defective fiat of the consent of the Attorney General and that the said document did not state any fact and charges on the face of the document.

He said Section 1 (2) of the 1991 Constitution requires the consent of Attorney General for prosecution, noting that the said consent should state the facts and charges on the face of the document and without a fiat not even, the Judge has the jurisdiction to try the first accused for a treason offence.

He submitted  that this is the first treason trial in Sierra Leone where no Overt Act is included, noting that the Overt Act helps the defense to do their case, thus adding that in the absence of such, the defense cannot do its case properly.

He further submitted that charging someone with a treason offence without including Overt Act was wrong, thus, the first accused should not have been called.

He also submitted that that was the first treason trial in Sierra Leone, which has no conspiracy charge, adding that such a charge must include two or more people coming together to overthrow a legitimate sitting government.

He further stated that Sierra Leone is not a fragile state for one man to go to State House and assassinate the president and overthrow a sitting government.

He said the testimony of one of the prosecution witnesses, Detective Superintendent Mohamed K. Allieu, who is the lead investigator of the matter, stated that they were investigating the first accused for the offence of unlawful possession of weapon and that it was the Office of the Attorney General that ordered for the accused to be charged with treason offences.

He further submitted that without any Overt Act in the evidence, the first accused should not answer to the charge of treason, nothing that there is no evidence before the court that the first accused attempted to overthrow the government, nor there is evidence that he conspired with other people to do so.

He said on 19th of March 2020, the first accused went to State House and declared his pistol to the security because his client had not wanted to create a panic by placing the said bag on the mental detection machine that is why he bypassed the system and went to the reception desk and declared it there.

He further submitted that, there was no law which says someone who is found with a pistol at State House should be charged with treason as a result his client has no case to answer and he should be acquitted and discharged.

He said the prosecution did not produce any evidence in with regards to count five which alleges that the first accused was carrying unlicensed pistol.

He said the license of the pistol was in the same bag where the pistol was and that was affirmed by the prosecution witnesses.

He said the accused was also charged with importation of firearm without valid license, but the prosecution did not lead any evidence to show that the first accused imported the pistol into the country.

He said his client was also charged with the offence of carrying a weapon in a public place, but the prosecution failed to tell the court what a public place is, noting that State House is not a public place.

In her reply, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice,  Pricilla Schwartz,  said the no case submission by the defense team of the first accused was unarguable in law, noting that the prosecution relied on the written reply they have submitted to the court.

She said the defense should not have talked about the absence of fiat, because there was a ruling on that already, noting that she is prosecuting the matter as the current sitting Attorney General so she does not need to issue a fiat to herself and there is no law in the country which says so.

She said on the 19th of March, 2020 the first accused was caught with a weapon at State House which was an act of preparation for assassination.

She submitted that the defense no-case submission is not tenable and shouldn’t stand.

Counsel for second accused, Anrite Thomson, submitted that his client has no case to answer as the laws made it very clear.

He said the use of ‘abet’ and ‘procuring’ in the particulars of offence was wrong, noting that to abet means for someone to actively engage or to assist someone in the commissioning of a crime.

He further stated that procuring is defined as a means to produce by endeavor, noting that it was clear that for the second accused to be guilty of abetting it needs to show that the second accused encouraged the first accused to commit a crime.

He said for the second accused to procure, he must have encouraged the first accused to commit a crime and must take a further step to ensure that the first accused committed the crime, noting that those two words are different in law and cannot be used in the same count charge.

He said the prosecution failed to prove that State House is a public place, nothing that State House enjoys the most tighten security in the country and the evidence led in court so far has supported that State House is a prohibited place and visitors are properly searched.

He submitted that State House is a private and prohibited place.

He said the first accused cannot be guilty for carrying a weapon in a public place because State House is not a public, but a private place, noting that if the first accused cannot be guilty then certainly the second accused cannot be guilty for abating and procuring.

He submitted that the prosecution has again failed to adduce sufficient evidence to show that his client knew intended action if ever of the first accused at the time he was issuing the license to him, noting that the second accused only performed his administrative duties.

He submitted that the Small arms regulations says at the absence of the commissioner of the commission his deputy shall act and of both of them are not around the Commissioner shall approve the most senior staff to act, noting that even if the Commissioner is absent for a minute his deputy has the right to act.

He said the second accused on 3rd of March issued a license to the first accused only for self-protection purposes and not to take it to a public place as alleged, thus submitting that his client be acquitted and discharged.

State counsel Adrian Fisher, said the second accused was charged on court 12 with abating and in the particulars of offence, the prosecution stated that he procured.

He said he was also charged on court four with the offence of preparatory which stated that the second accused unlawfully issued a firearm license to the first accused which shows that he assisted the first accused.

He submitted that both the first and second accused persons have a case to answer, noting that the licensing process of a new firearm took only one day and that many procedures where not followed which makes the whole process critical.

He said the 10th prosecution witness had told the court that the first accused went to the commission to register a weapon and after filling the form, the second accused demanded that the file be taken to him for approval even though the Commissioner was around.

He started that the licensing process was done in just a one day, and it was done in a rush, thus asking the question as to why the rush.

He argued that on that very day the Commissioner was in the office, but was not informed about the process.

He said the accused is a trained soldier and has served as deputy Commissioner for the period of twelve years, which means he knows the procedures, but decided not to follow it.

He said the first accused had not denied the fact that he went to State House with a loaded pistol, noting that State House belongs to the state which makes it a public place.

He made allusion to court buildings, the parliament, the airport and places that are consider as public places.

However the judge had adjourned the matter to Friday June 19th for the defense to open its case with the first accused taking the witness stand to testify in his defense.

 The All People’s Congress strong man served as Defense Minister, Internal Affairs Minister and also National Ebola Response Coordinator.

He is charged together with the Deputy Commissioner of the Sierra Leone National Commission on Small Arms Commission, Retired Colonel Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Huges.

State prosecutor, Adrian Fisher, alleges that the first accused, Alfred Palo Conteh, on 19th March, 2020, was caught with an unlicensed small arm at State House.

The State Prosecutor also alleges that Saa Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Huges abetted the said crime and that on a date unknown between 26th February and 3rd March 2020 in Freetown, procured the commission of an offence in contravention of Regulation 31 of the Arms and Ammunition of 2014.

He claimed that the 3rd accused person, Prince George Huges, being Justice of the Peace offered by law to make any statement on oath for any purpose and being lawfully show, made a statement which is material for the purpose of the matter which he knew to be false or did not believe to be true.