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“Persons of Interest are compelled to appear before the commission”

-Justice Williams A. Artuguba Rules

June 7, 2019

By Frederick V. Kanneh

Justice Williams A. Artuguba, who presides at the Commission of Inquiry room No.3, has on Thursday, 6th June, 2019, ruled that Persons of Interest are compelled to appear as witness before the commission when summoned.

He gave the ruling in respect of Persons of Interest that failed to honour  invitations that were served on them to appear before the commission as witnesses on the 23rd May, 2019.

They had absent themselves on the grounds that the rule of practice gives witness the option to either appear before the commission or to send a representative.

In his submission prior to the ruling, as to why his clients failed to appear before the commission on the said date, defense lawyer, A.S. Sesay, who represented Kemoh Sesay, former Minister of Works Housing and Infrastructure and others, stated that the decision of the commission to summon his clients to respond to evidence was contrary to Section 148(1) of Article 6 of the 1991 Constitution.

He appealed that the commission should review its decision, which he said triggered his clients’ rights to silence as stipulated in the Rule of Practice of the Commission of Inquiry.

He further added that there was no provision in the Rule of Practice that states that Persons of Interest should appear before the commission, but that if the commission insisted that his clients appear before the commission for evidences and cross examinations, then he would apply that they be  allowed to do so through a video link.

He told the commission that the cases before the commission were not criminal trials and that the Persons of Interest were merely accused persons, and that the commission would proceed with or without their appearance.

In his submission, the lead State Counsel, M. Mewa, noted that the proceedings before the commission had been misunderstood in its entirety by the defense counsels, adding that the reference by the defense counsels to every person appearing to give witness before the commission as Persons of Interest was considered as “weakness”.

He stated that the investigations before the commission were not for fire incidents, Ebola, or any catastrophe, but about persons and their conducts.

After his final ruling, Justice Williams A. Artuguba stated that he would not compel anyone to appear before his commission because persons of interest also have the right by law to enjoy their silence.

“Even if I compel them to come before this commission, chances are that they would come in order to honour the commission by law, take oath, and refuse to answer to all the questions that may be put to them during the cross examination which makes no sense to me,” he concluded.

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