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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Drama at Court Martial!

As Defence rejects suitability of President of Board

By Alusine Sesay

The pre-trial hearing of the on-going court martial was full of drama yesterday as the defense team raised further objections relating to the composition of the Board.

The team of defense counsels yesterday raised vehement objection to the suitability of the President of the Board, Colonel Usman Turay, questioning his credibility and fairness to serve on the Board.

The Court Martial constitutes the Judge Advocate and six Board members, with the later consisting experienced serving military officers who serve as jurors and guide the Judge Advocate as to the final decision of the court.

According to lead defence counsel, Julius Nye Cuffi, their objection is firmly grounded on the principle of actual bias as they believe the case of the accused would be prejudice from the outset if the President of the Board was allowed to serve in that position throughout the trial of the 14 alleged mutineers.

He said the proposed president of the Board was recently expelled from the military war college in Nigeria for misconduct, and that the defense was of a firm conviction that a substantive president of the court martial Board should be an individual of exemplary character.

“The expulsion of the proposed president impinges upon his character, good conduct and probity, especially when he is a senior officer of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces,” he said, adding that because of the aforementioned, the defense was of a firm conviction that the proposed president is not a fit and proper person to sit in the judgment of his peers.

He said the Court Martial Procedures of 2003 gives the President of the Board tremendous powers and responsibilities which the holder of that office would wield during the journey of the court martial proceedings.

“It is the submission of the defense that the holder of that office must be of conspicuous probity and integrity capable of dispensing equity and fairness without fear or favour, ill-will or malice,” he noted.

Also, the defense submitted that there had been an issue between the proposed president and the 14th accused (Captain Prince Sesay) in which the accused was charged, although he was subsequently freed upon the production of a document to the tribunal that implicated the proposed president who was then the accused’s commanding officer.

“Since then, it has created bad blood between the 14th accused and the proposed president. Anytime the proposed president and the 14th accused met, the proposed president would cast aspersion on the 14th accused that he is bad soldier,” he said.

He argued that the defense was convinced the accused would not be accorded a fair hearing should the proposed president be left at the helm of affairs.

Mr. Cuffie further cited article 6 of the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which he said largely emphasises the need for a fair trial of any accused person in an open court.

“It is the application of the defense that the proposed president recluse himself from this trial,” he urged.

Though the defense objected that the prosecution should not be the ones to respond to the objection raised, citing rule 25(6) of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Sierra Leone Court Martial Procedures of 2003, Judge Advocate Otto During overruled the former and allowed the latter, led by Gerald Soyie Esq., Principal State Prosecutor, to respond.

In his response, Mr. Soyei argued that: “Those records which the defense refer to concerning the charges affecting the 14th accused and the proceedings thereto, such as to infer to the intervention of the proposed president are not before this honourable court and their existence cannot be inferred. You cannot take judicial notice concerning the 14th accused.

He said it was now too late for the defense to produce such records, if any, and that such records could only be produced by prescribed procedures, adding that such procedures were not satisfied.

“There is insufficient particularisation of prejudice for the forgoing reasons – failure to produce such records. There are no records of expulsion of the proposed president from the military war college in Nigeria,” he said, adding if such records of expulsion exist, they should be notarised and that the Nigerian High Commission and the Foreign Service would be instrumental in communicating such an expulsion to the military hierarchy in Sierra Leone.

“I invite you to disregard the expulsion of the president because it constitutes insufficient particularisation of prejudice,” he submitted.

On the alleged past acrimony between the 14th accused and the president, he argued that there is no such proof before the court and that the document which implicated the president does not sum up to conviction.

At this juncture, Judge Advocate Otto During adjourned the matter to Wednesday for his ruling on the objection raised by the defense counsel.

The matter continues.

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