…over Law School faux pas
By Jariatu Bangura
Members of Parliament yesterday blamed the Council of Legal Education, the governing body of the Sierra Leone Law School, of negligence for certifying students as ‘fit and proper barristers and solicitors’ to practice law in the country, only to four months later withdraw their temporal certificates, saying they were ‘incorrectly certified’.
The Law School had in November 2013 called more than seventy benchers to the Sierra Leone Bar at formal ceremony attended by the Chief Justice and a host of judges and legal practitioners, with the current Director of the School, Professor Tobuko Metzger, presenting the new barristers and solicitors for certification.
However, it emerged later that ten students had petitioned the results and called for an investigation, admonishing the Council against going ahead with the Call prior to an independent inquest, as such might have serious consequences on those called, the School and the legal profession in general.
But the plea of the students was discarded, although pressure from them, after serious of correspondences, including one by Chairman of the General Legal Council, Yada Williams, Esq., finally brought pressure to bear on Council for a Committee to be established, which recommendation, as predicted by the petitioners, has plunged the School, fifty-six barristers and solicitors and the legal profession into serious disrepute, as only fifteen out of a class of ninety-one students were deemed to have ‘correctly been certified’.
Accordingly, the faux pas, the most damning in the School’s twenty-five years history, caused lawmakers to summon Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh to Parliament, in her capacity as Chairman of the Council, although Minster of Justice and Attorney-General, a member of Council instead faced Parliament.
Hon. Veronica Kadi Sesay from Moyamba District, said the whole scenario was indicative of gross negligence on the part of the administration of the School and that if there was any foul play the School’s administration should bear the burden and not the students, adding that the future of fifty-six young compatriots now hangs in the balance, which does not bide well for the country.
‘’I want to underline the word ‘wrongly’ as said by the Attorney General (Franklyn Kargbo). How do we fight that wrong as two wrongs can’t make right, so we have to find ways and means to settle that matter,” she said. “I heard over the radio that the students should either rewrite the exams or whatever. What will be the confidence that they would not be prejudiced and what modalities have the Council put in place to see that the said issue is resolved? The administration should suffer and not the students.”
Hon. Foday Rado Yokie referenced the Attorney General, who had said that Council suspected some ‘foul play’, noting that no sooner the School suspected the abnormities than it should have acted and addressed the issue, instead of going ahead to give out certificates, despite being forewarned.
He said it was unfortunate that Council did not address the issue but went ahead and certified the students, only to later decide to withdraw their certificates, adding that such exemplify inconsistency on the side of Council.
He added that any abnormalities that might have been found in the results should be blamed on Council and not the innocent students, thus Council should endeavour to remedy the situation, not least to restore its battered image and credibility.
Earlier, in his opening statement, Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Sheku B. B. Dumbuya, said the role of Parliamentarians is to address issues that affect the populace as the interest of the public is their greatest concern, including the issue of the fifty-six disbarred lawyers, hence the reason Parliament decided to invite the Chief Justice as Chairperson of the Council of Legal Education to explain the steps taken to address the issue.
He said lawmakers were doing the students a favour, as according to Standing Order 32 of Parliament, when a matter is sub-judice, Parliament should not interfere, especially when the issue was under investigation.
He said that because the matter was being handled by the Anti-Corruption Commission, Parliament was restrained from discussing it fully.
Speaking, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice Franklyn Bai Kargbo, who was there in place of the Chief Justice, said the issue of invalidating the result of lawyers who were ‘wrongly called to the Bar in November 2013’ was regrettable.
He apologised for the absence of the Chief Justice, noting that such was not as a result of any disrespect for Parliament, but as per legal tradition and customs the Chief Justice does not make public statement, hence his decision to step into her shoes.
He said there are entering requirements for gaining admission into the Law School, and conditions to be fulfilled before one is called to the Bar, while the General Legal Council regulates the conducts of lawyers who have to first sign a temporal register and upon completing pupilage sign a permanent Roll of Court.
He said the issue started when certain students wrote a letter to the President concerning the 2012/2013 Law School results, and that a Committee was formed by the Council of Legal Education headed by Justice Valicious Thomas.
He said that two days prior to the Call some whistleblowers filed a complaint to Council in respect of alleged irregularities in the results, thus the Call ceremony was considerably delayed for about five hours and at that point students were informed that some of the allegations were not proven, but Justice Thomas reported that such was just a tip of the iceberg as they should go deeper and further to look into the issue.
He further said that during the signing of the temporal register at the Law Officers Department, the Class of 2013 were warned that investigations were being carried out into the authenticity of the results and that certificates would be withdrawn if anyone was found wanting, adding that they were only allowed to sign the register because Council did not want to be inequitable to students that have genuinely passed their exams.
Meanwhile, the aggrieved Class of 2013 has threatened to stage a peaceful demonstration today if Council failed to release the comprehensive report of the investigating Committee by yesterday (15 April).