October 1, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura
The Justice Sector Coordination Office yesterday organised a discourse on the new Criminal Procedure Bill, with members on the legislative committee in Parliament and civil society in attendance, at Parliament building in Freetown.
The bill is slated to consolidate and amend the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965 which many criminal justice actors and observers say is obsolete and need reviewing.
While doing a presentation on the bill, Alieu Vandy Koroma Esq., from the Law Officers Department, said times, circumstances and aspirations have changed since the law on criminal procedure was enancted fifty years ago. He said the 1965 Act thus poses challenges that continue to manifest themselves, hence the need for it to be reviewed and amended in order to expand the provisions in the extant Act.
He said the bill creates new provisions, different but simplified, and limits the description of persons charged with an offence to defendant only, while also changing terms such as ‘constable’ to ‘police officer’ and expanded the meaning of ‘Law Officer’ to include the commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission.
He says the bill makes provision for new sentencing rules, such as suspended sentences for certain convictions and order for community service.
He maintained that the new bill is an important contribution to the criminal justice system, as it would significantly improve human rights, public confidentiality and potentially have transformative effects on the efficacy of prosecutions.
Former Vice President of Sierra Leone, Solomon Berewa, commended the bill as good, although there is more to be done to it, adding that the Court Act should be reviewed as well because they operate in tandem.
The former Attorney General and Minister of Justice said all the clauses in the proposed bill should be look into thoroughly to ensure they are in line with international standards, and to ensure that rights are accorded to persons equally.
Speaking on behalf of civil society organisations in Western Area, Sonkita Conteh commended the initiative as a historical document to the people of Sierra Leone, but urged lawmakers that there are things that should be look into when the bill will be presented to them for deliberations.
Conteh, himself a lawyer, said no discretion should be given as to the issue of bail as it is the right of all accused persons, adding that some limitation should be imposed on the police in granting bail as there has to be good reason to incarcerate people and refuse them bail. He lamented that some accused persons are kept in detention for more than 72 hours or 10 days, as stated by law, adding that such was not good for our criminal justice system.
He added that a case management system should be created to ensure that cases are committed to the High Court without delay in the Magistrates Courts.
Participants at the meeting from all the regions in the country urged judiciary authorities to deploy a resident state counsel in the eastern region and for bail conditions to be reasonable and uniform in all courts.
MPs promised to thoroughly review the bill and make amendments, in view of issues raised at the meeting, as they were all in agreement that the justice system needs good laws and their effective implementation.