By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
The Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) has in its human rights and policy brief released last Friday 4th, January, called for an overhaul of the Judiciary whilst urging for an immediate action to be taken by government to ensure that the long list of delayed matters before the courts are addressed with the, speed, seriousness and fairness it deserves.
According to the policy brief ,CHRDI is aware that many Sierra Leoneans are frustrated and concerned that some matters before the courts have taken more than five years without any judgement being given adding that a case in point is the 50th Anniversary corruption case for which no judgement has been given by the Judge for almost 7 years now.
‘’Moreover, many land cases are still pending in the court without any judgement being given. Some litigants have died during the course of their case, whilst awaiting judgement,’’ the policy brief noted
The policy brief further noted that the delays in cases before the courts have largely been attributed to the inefficiency of some judges who are way past retirement age, coupled with a shortage of judges adding, this has increased the work load of the few judges left.
According to the Right based public social-policy advocacy ,they believed that they are of the conviction that to have only 24 working judges for a country of seven million people is a recipe for injustice on a grand scale. Thus, strongly recommending that the new Chief Justice and the government to appoint new judges to serve the populace.
The Right group further added for government to look seriously into the following, 648 Criminal cases pending in the High Court as at March 2018, 737 civil cases pending, 33 Criminal cases reserved with no judgement, 122 civil cases reserved and the 1,540 cases currently being heard by 24 judges.
‘’We believe that the continued detention of these citizens is unlawful, a violation of their human dignity and destroying their lives. To detain citizens without charges or judgements and with no regard for due process is in clear violation of the laws of Sierra Leone and a contravention of international Human Rights Law’’, the Rights based advocacy organisation said.
The Right based advocacy organisation quoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that no one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment and that all defendants have the rights to a fair trial stating in the country today, people are held without due process and prisoners are convicted in unfair trials.
‘’Corruption is undermining the judicial systems in the country and denying citizen’s access to justice and the basic human right to a fair and impartial trial, sometimes even to a trial at all. In Sierra Leone, if you are poor, your right to justice through the legal system is often denied,’’ the right based organisation said, adding that If you don’t have money for lawyers, it is hard to get justice.
It further said they perceive a situation where it may seem like the law is for the rich because they have money to ‘buy’ justice although we have the Legal Aid Board (LAB) to address the unfair justice system in the country, we still have many citizens who are unable to access justice in both the urban and rural areas of the country.
According to them, the Constitution and law provides for an independent judiciary, but CHRDI believes that the judiciary has not always been independent and has acted under government influence for the past several years, particularly in corruption-related cases.
‘’We deem Political interference as when politicians or staff from the Legislative or Executive branch meddles in judicial affairs or collude with judges in fraudulent schemes. We have evidence of rampant Political interference in the judicial process by the Legislative or Executive branches in the recent past and are very worried that this has become quite common place’’
The organization believes that, the importance of an independent judiciary cannot be overemphasised as everyone loses when justice is corrupted stating that the poor and vulnerable citizens who are forced to pay bribes who cannot afford are particularly affected.
The Advocacy organisation also said they also find it very troubling that despite several efforts by the country’s development partners to isolate the judiciary from politics, Judges and other court personnel still face significant pressure to rule in favour of powerful political or business entities rather than in accordance with the laws of Sierra Leone thus pointing out that a malleable judiciary can even be used by those in power to provide protection for and lend legitimacy to fraudulent acts. Judges might also collude with politicians in a variety of different white-collar crimes, such as extortion, money laundering and embezzlement.
‘’In the light of the above, we at CHRDI urge the government of Sierra Leone to urgently repair the judicial system. We need a workable system that would provide for corrupt Judges to be removed speedily rather than been allowed to use their offices to make poor Sierra Leoneans suffer injustice. The need for new judges with integrity and efficiency cannot be over-emphasised and must be actioned if the Judiciary is to regain its former glory,’’ the policy brief ended