By Ibrahim Kabba Turay
The Supreme Court has retired and reserved ruling on an application made by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice for trial by judge alone application in the murder matter involving former Skye Bank General Manager, Ikubolajeh Nicol.
The motion was referred to the superior court of the land by Justice Adrian Fisher in June this year on the application which had been challenged by Lawyer Roland Wright
In the oral submissions on Wednesday, 11th October, Lawyer Roland Wright said the state in their written submission, had not addressed the questions and issues raised by the High Court, which were before the Supreme Court and had also failed to distinguish between the principles generally and how such issues affect the accused personally, thereby believing that they were restating their initial position.
He argued that if all cases after the abolition of the death penalty and even after his client Ikubolajeh had been charged for murder and two other counts have been tried by judge and jury, he asked the judges as why that case should be tried by judge alone.
Lawyer Wright asked the Bench for the Attorney-General’s Office to cite any murder case in Sierra Leone that has been tried by a single judge since the abolition of the death penalty.
“When you have established a precedent for due process and fair trail, such precedent should continue. Section 23 of the 1991 Constitution provides for fair hearing to all accused person,” Wright argued.
The Chief Justice who was the Chairman of the five member panel interjected and noted that it was because murder and treason were capital offences, which no longer fall under such category that were punishable by death and rather had been replaced with life imprisonment.
However, Lawyer Roland Wright said that “Treason and Murder have always been treated as a special category of offenses which the laws have recognized throughout.”
He continued that a subjective power must be observed objectively. ‘What we’re asking for is for the accused to be treated equally before the law,” he submitted
“A subjective power was granted to the Attorney-General, and in exercise of that power, he has consistently allowed all murder trails to go by Judge and Jury from the abolition of the death penalty. Therefore, a precedent has been established,” he reechoed.
He envisaged a new dispensation might find it very convenient for political opponents to be tried by judge alone.
Principal State Counsel,Ahmed James Maxwell Bockarie replied, saying that Paragraphs 61 and 62 of the Justice Adrian Fisher’s ruling at the High Court had addressed Mr. Wright’s contention on fair trial.
Trial by Judge alone, he said is the sole discretion of the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecution.
“We’re applying the law and not departing,” Mr. Bockarie submitted.
The State Counsel was asked by one of the empaneled judges, Justice Vivian Solomon, to reference any other matter of murder, pending for trial at the High Court for which the Attorney-General has made application for judge alone.
The other matters relating to murder, which are before Justice Adrian Fisher pending the determination of Ikubolaje’s, he told the court, were all tried by judges and jury..
Justice Alusine Sesay informed him that setting bad precedent has its own implications and that the matter before them at the Supreme Court is a big task.