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The Independence of the Judiciary of Sierra Leone

March 16, 2021

By: Mustapha Sheriff

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/86/Freetown_Court_1984.jpg/220px-Freetown_Court_1984.jpg
Supreme Court building in Freetown, Sierra Leone

On the establishment of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission did recommend in point 131 that ‘’the starting point in establishing the rule of law is the creation of an independent, impartial and autonomous judiciary.’’ For ages, there are people that have questioned the independence of judiciaries the world over and Sierra Leone is not an exception. Maybe what makes things even more convincing in Sierra Leone’s instance is that the head of the country’s judiciary who happens to be the Chief Justice, is someone that is always appointed by the sitting President. It is such things that make the argument about the independence or not of the judiciary unending.

In an exclusive interview with the Public Relations Officer of the Judiciary of Sierra Leone, Moses Lamin Kamara, he said that people’s opinion will always vary, but that the Judiciary is always ready to interpret the law as it is and not to favor anyone. He said that in any democracy, there are people that will cry foul and that it is not unexpected that similar things are happening in Sierra Leone.

Similar if not exact comments were also expressed by the Head of Communications at the Judiciary of Sierra Leone, Elkass Sannoh. For Mr. Sannoh, he said that people should learn to believe and trust in the systems and processes that govern the state and the society. He added that members of the judiciary owe it to themselves and to society to be balanced and clearer on all matters because as he puts it ‘’all of us working for the judiciary would be judged based on our actions and our outputs.’’

Section 120 (4) of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone guarantees an independent judiciary in the following words: ‘’With such express provisions of the Constitution, one would expect that the judiciary would be independent and carry out its functions without fear or favor or deference to any other person or authority.’’

The Judiciary of Sierra Leone is the branch of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone which interprets and applies the laws of Sierra Leone to ensure impartial justice under law and to provide a mechanism for dispute resolution. The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by the constitution.

The judicial system, headed by the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, comprises the inferior courts, represented by the Magistrates courts and the Local courts and the superior courts, represented by the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

The Chief Justice and Judges of the Superior Court are appointed by the President of Sierra Leone acting on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission subject to the approval of Parliament. They can retire after reaching the age of 60 but must retire at the age of 65. They may be removed from office at any time in the event of misconduct or infirmity.

Thomas Moore Conteh is the Executive Director of the Citizens’ Advocacy Network (CAN). He stated that there are challenges with the independence of the Judiciary of Sierra Leone. To him, the fact that the head of the judiciary who happens to be the Chief Justice is appointed by the sitting president of Sierra Leone already presupposes a bias situation. Asimilar position is also held by Rashid Dumbuya Esq, who heads the civil society LEGAL LINK.

Augustine Bellay is a forty three year old man in Kenema Sierra Leone who believes that it will take and require a whole lot for the Sierra Leone’s Judiciary to attain absolute independence. He attributes this to what he describes as the political factors and forces that may not be easy to defeat. Similar views were expressed by an elderly woman in Freetown who prefers anonymity.

This article is produced with support from MRCG through the ATJLF project on ‘’Engaging the Media to change the narrative on Transitional Justice (TJ) issues in Sierra Leone.’’

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