By: Winstanley. R. Bankole Johnson

The Tabloids were unanimous in their captivating “Journalese”: “JUDGES GO TO PRISON”. The truism however is that as a rose by any other name is still a rose, so too is it that a Goal by any other name – Jail or Prison or Correctional Center – is still a Goal. How else would our law enforcement agencies explain why family members would come away from those facilities weeping so profusely, and with the same feelings after seeing the poor physical conditions of their loved ones at first hand as if they had just viewed their mortal remains in a morgue!!

The thrust of their story was anchored on a decision by a cross section from the Justice Delivery Sectors – Judiciary, Police, Prisons and Legal Aid Board – to swoop on Prisons countrywide between 31st January and 4th February to summarily review the cases of some 1013 inmates, all of whom they full well knew had been incarcerated without regular indictments. To that number was to be added another 532 inmates on remand without admission to bail for offenses which the Judges and Magistrates that ordered their incarcerations also full well knew were “bailable”. All of that is happening in a day and age of civilization in which though Sierra Leone is signatory to the highest volumes of Constitutional and International Human Rights safeguards, the detainees are as usual all crammed into putrid Cell conditions that are as appalling as their diets, and in gross violations of their fundamental human and constitutional rights.

The enterprise was hailed by certain local Rights groups as “laudable and overdue. In their own commendation the Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) described the His Lordship the Chief Justice Hon. Desmond Edwards as a “listening person”. Personally I wasn’t impressed and am constrained to defer my compliments for that Judicial Review Team – more particularly from the Judiciary – for the following cogent reasons:

Starting Points
The very starting points of the 26 Judges – Prisons countrywide – was questionable. Their ideal starting points should have been with three conspicuously low-hanging cherries right at the doorstep of the Hon. Chief Justice and figuratively obstructing his paths to and from his Chambers and further dampening public confidence in the entire Judiciary as under:
(a) Actualizing the bail of Kamarainba Mansaray
(b) Instant dismissals and disbarring of all those Magistrates who by imposing fines and custodial sentences far above their limits instead of committing those matters to Superior Courts had acted unprofessionally and in gross miscarriages of justice in the first place
(c) Instant/ immediate releases of the 1013 inmates incarcerated without warrants PLUS
the other 532 inmates that had consistently been refused be admitted into bail.
That is to say if they had started as proposed a total of 1,535 (One thousand five hundred and thirty-five) inmates could have been freed countrywide at overnight of 30th January by a stroke of the Hon. Chief Justice’s pen, without 26 Lord Justices moving in inch away from their Chambers. The government would have been saved the unnecessary wastage of resources as was expended for their visits to the various Prisons to re-sit and discharge those people who were not supposed to have been within the Prison systems in the first place. And the Learned Judges did release or commuted the sentences of a few without compensation to any if you please!!

The same groups of people within the Justice delivery sector that are on the records of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Reports as bearing the greatest responsibility for our 11-years carnage called Rebel War (Judiciary and Police, Prisons), and who also should take the greatest responsibility for having preferred wrong indictments, delayed arbitration and judgements through non appearances of Benchers at Courts sessions, manipulated counter-claims between litigants in criminal matters, refused bail to accused persons for clearly “bailable” offenses, starvation of detainees, poor and unhygienic detention facilities occasioning frequent unreported premature deaths of detainees, are the very stakeholders that conceptualized those reviews for reprieves countrywide, as if to cover up their transgressions.

Incidentally and rather interestingly the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in tandem with which the Judiciary would appear to be viewing matters from the same prisms irrespective of their merits to please “those in authority” (especially if they impact APC Party opposition politicians), was left out of the group of “contrivers” of the Judicial Week Review this time round.

Now if with all their knowledge of the Law and commitment to duty the learned legal administrators initially lost the Spirit of God to have dispensed “justice” with “equitable scales”, what makes anyone think God will ever “conscientize” them to supervise restitution? Can or should those who are responsible for creating wrongs that destabilize our society be safely entrusted to restitute those same wrongs? I think not!!

Certainly those 26 itinerant Judges must have dispensed their reviews and reprieve remits on compassionate, instead of on grounds of equity and that probably was why no reference was made to compensations for the released detainees. And if those 26 Honourable Lords could have been given time for atoning for their own omissions and derelictions of duty, would it not have been of greater benefits to society if the detainees were also allowed a “Week of Atonement” for an amendment of their own lives and conditions – more especially the 1013 for which no indictments existed?
This was sooooooooo unfair!!

And if the Judiciary and government were really serious about the enterprise they should have involved the wider Civil Societies and a cross section of the very detainees themselves to ensure inclusivity, so that the malaises impacting on continuous unfair and unlawful judicial detentions could have been properly diagnosed and better remedied with lasting recommendations to follow. After all it is now conventional to take on board those on whose behalf decisions are being taken.

Insofar as overcrowding at our detention facilities are concerned, you can only be able to guess why successive governments have paid no seriousness to correct the situation when you consider that annually, the approved allocations for our Prisons exceeds Le48billion. So no matter how deplorable our detention facilities appear, to those controlling those resources the more the number of detainees, the merrier. But unless they lack a compunction it must have been embarrassing moments for law enforcement officers in the various jurisdictions (Judges, Magistrates, Police and Prisons) as those 26 Itinerant Judges dismantled and overturned in one fell swoop (and in a single day) the injustices they had wrought for several years before their very eyes, and which were the main reasons for congestion at our Prisons.

Narrow Scope
It occurred to me though that the scope of the 26 Judges was rather narrow to wit: Prisons only. No attention was paid to the various Police Stations and Juvenile Detention Centers countrywide where much overcrowding of detainees mostly unnecessarily and other injustices also prevail. They also did not take cognizance of the plight of litigants who though not within detentions facilities have been as psychologically “imprisoned” in their minds on account of inordinate delays or outright refusal by Judges to have timeously dispensed justice in hundreds of cases pertaining to their lands and properties.

By correspondence exchanges between very senior Judges exposed to the public some three years ago, some of those deferred judgements were said have remained undelivered for up to fifteen years and counting. That is appalling!! Would the Hon. Chief Justice next wish to declare a Special Month For Delivery Of All Outstanding Lands/Properties Judgements of over fifteen years to unfetter the minds of litigants, some of whom may have even been translated?

A pertinent question that needs be asked is what actually was the prompt for this Judicial Week of introspection to clean what many have come to consider as our Augean Legal stable? I will leave readers to ponder that. I’m having challenges to disconnect it from statements of the European Union Elections Follow-up Mission (EU-EFM) delivered recently and highlighting genuine concerns of actual mistrusts in the bodies essential to play integral roles in our forthcoming elections to wit: The Judiciary, National Electoral Commission (NEC), The Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC) and the Sierra Leone Police (SLP). The EU-EFM justified their observations on several shortcomings impacting the Judiciary as evident in the way recent bye-elections petitions were adjudicated upon, …………..Disrespect for, and misapplication of the Rule of Law……………Delays to deliver justice which is as good as denying citizens their right to justice……..Refusing the opposition satisfactory legal political space to flex their ideologies…….and a seeming deliberate government vacillations to conclude disclosures of the White Paper arising from the Commissions of Inquiries to enable those against whom charges have been preferred to pursue appropriate judicial redress timeously.

Before start of the Judicial Week we were told the combined number of detainees countrywide exceeded 3,500 in holding facilities intended for less than a thousand. So after the “JUDGES RETURN FROM PRISONS” on 4th February, would the Judiciary Director of Public Relations now kindly provide us with updates on the number of detainees countrywide and how and where they are Goaled? This will be valuable information for the Finance Ministry for them to consider adjusting the yearly allocations for the Prisons significantly downwards from Le48Billion and to also assist the Legal Aid Board re-define their scope into SMART objectives.

The Judiciary Director of Public Relations may also wish to clarify whether this exercise was just a one-off, or it will be expected to continue and at which periodic frequency.

I maintain an open mind and might revisit my reservation depending on responses received from the Judicature. Until then, I defer my compliments.

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