Rumpus at Bar Association meeting


…Police arrest lawyer

March 23, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff

The much anticipated meeting of the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) ended in a rumpus last Friday as police officers stormed the sacred precincts of the Law Court building in Freetown to disperse lawyers who had gathered to deliberate and take a resolution on the sacking of the Vice President.

The executive of the Bar, led by Ibrahim Sorie Esq., had called a meeting for members to state their position on the frenetic constitutional debate as to whether the President’s decision to sack the democratically elected Vice President, Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana, and replace him with Ambassador Victor Foh, was constitutional.

According to Musa Mewa Esq., the meeting was well attended by members of the Bar, including senior lawyers, and the mood in the hall was expectant as more than two-thirds of those present were ready to vote in favour of a resolution to condemn the brazen attack on the constitution and the “purported sacking of the Vice President” as “unconstitutional”.

Mewa said he reminded his learned colleagues about the sacred duties of the Bar Association, which inter alia exists not just as a pressure group, but as an expert pressure group, not least to defend and protect the constitution, which is the sacred law of the land.

He said he moved a motion for the executive to put on vote the question of whether there were constitutional issues with the decision of the President to sack the Vice President, and whether in fact that action was constitutional or unconstitutional.

He said the motion received a resounding approval from members present at the meeting, although executive members were dilly-dallying to put the motion to a vote, apparently as a diversionary tactic.

Despite the alleged diversionary tactic by the executive, other sources at the meeting say it was obvious the majority of lawyers in attendance were in favour of a resolution that the President’s action was unconstitutional.

Thus, as tempers boiled over, there were calls to impeach the executive, although that was withdrawn after some senior lawyers intervened.

However, another source added that it was apparent from the outset that the strategy of certain lawyers was to ensure the meeting ended in a deadlock without a resolution, even though the majority was unequivocally in favour of a strong resolution to condemn the “ultra vires action of the President”.

“We were involved in that legal argument and counter-argument, evidently as a time wasting strategy, even though the majority was clearly against the constitutional faux pas by the President, when police arrived to disrupt our meeting,” a visibly exasperated female barrister of several years standing told Concord Times.

She blamed the executive of the Bar Association for allowing themselves to be manipulated into subverting the wishes of the majority, with a blatant strategy to derail the meeting.

“How can the police storm a Bar Association meeting and ask us to disperse when they stood by and did nothing while a large gathering of youth converged at State House?” a male lawyer quizzed, no doubt furious at the double standards of the police in carrying out their duty.

The vehicle of Hon. Chernor M.B. Bah, deputy Speaker of Parliament, was seen around the venue of the meeting, and he had barely left when riot police officers stormed the meeting.

A group of lawyers were seen singing the National Anthem and holding placards denouncing the “flagrant rape of the constitution”. Some of the placards read: “The Constitution must be protected”, “The Bar must not be bought by politicians”, etc.

Assistant Superintendent of Police Musa Bangura was seen confronting the lawyers who were singing peacefully, and tore at least two of the placards. He then confronted one of the lawyers, Francis M. Gbaya Esq., and arrested and bundled him into a police vehicle which drove to the Central Police Station.

“I was manhandled, arrested and whisked to Central Police Station while singing the National Anthem, after the executive of the Sierra Leone Bar Association refused to put to a vote the constitutionality or otherwise of the decision of the President to sack the Vice President,”  Gbaya told Concord Times on Saturday.

He denied allegation of “assault and insult” by ASP Bangura, adding that he is not only a law abiding citizen but an officer of the law who understands his responsibilities and conduct in society.

He was subsequently released after the intervention of the Bar Association executive and a battery of lawyers who converged at the Central Police Station demanding his unconditional release.

Lawyer Leon Jenkins-Johnston Esq. posted on his Facebook page on Friday night that, “…we (lawyers) were not allowed by the Sierra Leone Police to vote on the constitutionality of the action of the President to sack his vice.”

Meanwhile, a battery of lawyers have appended their signature to a “Unanimous Resolution of the Bar”, which says majority of members at the meeting, save the executive, had agreed: “That the relieving or sacking of the Vice-President and the appointment of another Vice-President by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone is unconstitutional as no such powers are vested in the President or the Executive arm of government.”

The release called on the President, “as guardian of the Constitution and Fountain of Honour”, to “respect the Rule of Law and the Constitution he swore to protect and to follow due process…”, with the following ultimatums: to within 48 hours withdraw his press statement on 17 March “which unconstitutionally purported to relieve the Honourable Vice-President of his Constitutional Duties”; “Revoke the unconstitutional appointment of the new “Vice-President”; follow due process as stipulated in the constitution the process of impeaching the Vice-President; and to “Instruct the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice to approach the Supreme Court on the question of Law as to whether the expulsion of the Vice President from the All Peoples Congress or his purported application for asylum amounts to vacancy in the Office of the Vice-President and seek a declaration to the effect pursuant to Section 124(a)&(b) of the 1991 Constitution.”