Since his appointment as the new Attorney General and Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone, Anthony Y. Brewah has not had the opportunity of meeting with parliamentarians to discuss his stewardship, simply because by virtue of the country’s constitution parliament does not approve the president’s decision to appoint his Attorney General.
But there are many in Sierra Leone who believe that parliamentarians should have the prerogative of questioning and probing into the stewardship of the Attorney General upon their appointment, if not to approve their appointment by the president.
Two weeks ago (July 27, 2020), parliamentary leader of the opposition National Grand Coalition (NGC) party – Dr Kandeh Yumkella MP, wrote to the newly-appointed Attorney General, Anthony Y. Brewah, raising several key national issues of concern. This is what Yumkella said:
Dear Learned Attorney-General and Minister of Justice,
Please permit me to congratulate you on your recent appointment. Please accept my best wishes for a successful tenure of office.
Sir, all other Ministers have to be approved by Parliament. By virtue of the Supreme Court decision in Sierra Leone Bar Association Vs. Eke Halloway and another, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice does not require to be approved by Parliament. As a result, we could not share our expectations for you in your new role with you. Therefore, please allow me to share with you a few thoughts on my hopes and expectations.
A few weeks ago, when Parliament approved the promotion of three new Judges to the Court of Appeal, I stated the importance of the justice sector in our nation’s development. Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in 2015 highlights the fact that peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law are important conduits for sustainable development.
As I stated in Parliament, many of us are aware of the challenges that adversely affect the effective dispensation of fair and transparent administration of justice in our country. They include the problem of access to justice, especially for groups such as poor people, children and women, the absence of both individual and institutional independence, judicial corruption, lack of adequate resources, huge backlogs of cases leading to long delays, the inefficiency of staff, and the politicization of the judiciary. There remains poor coordination of the justice sector institutions.
Our current situation can best be described using the words of the former Kenyan Chief Justice, Willy Mutunga, who said in 2011: “We found an institution so frail in its structures; so thin on resources; so low on its confidence; so deficient in integrity; so weak in its public support that to have expected it to deliver justice was to be wildly optimistic. We found a judiciary that was designed to fail.”
As the principal legal adviser to the Government of Sierra Leone, you play a pivotal role in the administration of justice in Sierra Leone. During your tenure of office, we are counting on you to ensure that the rule of law remains the bedrock of this government. I urge you to do your utmost to enforce respect for human rights and access to justice and ensure timely delivery of justice for every Sierra Leonean.
I believe that there is an urgent need to reform our judiciary, including investing in the infrastructure, equipment, personnel, training, and management and restoring its financial independence by granting it self-accounting status.
I hope you will work with the Honourable Chief Justice to address these challenges and depoliticize the judiciary and protect its independence and integrity. We can learn from best practices in other African countries that have similar problems with political interference in the courts.
For example, in Kenya, although the President appoints the Chief Justice, s/he is selected by the Judicial Service Commission following a competitive process involving a vacancy announcement, shortlisting of applicants and interviews and subject to the approval of the National Assembly.
Kenya also set up an Office of the Judiciary Ombudsperson and strengthened Court Users’ Committees, which opened lines of communication for citizens to register complaints, suggest changes, and receive responses.
Judicial appointments must be based on merit and not on discretion. There must be a formal process for evaluating judges who are seeking promotion.
We also need to reform our Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC). As has been pointed out, almost all the members of the JLSC are appointed by the President in some way, either specifically to serve on the Commission, or to hold the public office that qualifies them automatically for membership on the Commission. In the words of one study, “the JLSC framework raises the risk that the ruling political party can dominate the pre-Parliamentary appointments process.”
Our laws are in urgent need of reform. Many are outdated and anachronistic. I urge you to work with the drafting unit within the Law Officers Department and the Law Reform Commission to embark on a wholesale review of the laws of Sierra Leone. Some key legislations I would propose that need urgent review include the Constitution of Sierra Leone, the supreme law of our country. I urge you to build on the excellent work undertaken by the late Justice Edmond Cowan and revisit the White Paper issued by the previous government.
Also crucial is the amendment of our laws pertaining to citizenship. The revised law must remove the disqualification of dual citizens from contesting elections as Members of Parliament and allow the election of dual citizens as President, Vice President and Speaker. I also urge you to amend the relevant law to improve on the representation of women in parliament and reduce the time required by public officers to resign before elections.
I also urge you to work to ensure that the revised Criminal Procedure Act is urgently reviewed by Cabinet and submitted to Parliament. The Act makes provision for alternatives sentences, including probation, community service and suspended sentences; this will help unclog our courts and decongest our prisons.
I hope that we will also see the promotion of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms during your tenure.
The recent spate of rape, sexual penetration and sexual and gender-based violence cases deserve your immediate and urgent attention. The conviction rates for such cases remain appalling low. I hope that you will set up a unit within your office to work with the Family Support Unit of the Police to proactively investigate and prosecute such cases. This will serve as deterrence and send a loud and clear message to perpetrators.
Sierra Leone has been a leader in the provision of paralegal services on the continent and has one of the most progressive legal aid laws in the continent. In its New Direction manifesto, your government promised to ‘Train a cadre of ‘paralegals’ to support the sector in the country’s extreme rural communities where the services of trained legal practitioners’ currently pose a huge challenge and Strengthen and capacitate the Legal Aid Programme to continue to provide legal aid services to our indigent and vulnerable citizens.’
I trust that you will work with the Legal Aid Board and other organizations to ensure that these promises come to fruition.
Finally, let me conclude by urging you to work hard to build a good working relationship with the Speaker and the Honourable Members of Parliament. In the recent past, we have had some challenges that threatened to erode the trust needed between our institutions. I sincerely hope you will address this issue and ensure that we work together to better the land that we love.
Alhaji Hon. Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella
MP Const. 062