The United Nations Resident Coordinator, Dr. Babatunde A. Ahonsi, has commended Sierra Leone’s strides amidst challenges to build a strong judicial independence.
“In an emerging democracy, Sierra Leone needs a strong Judiciary as an independent arm of Government,” the UN Resident Coordinator said, adding that, “what the Judiciary offers is the protection of fundamental Human Rights. This election will be very consequential for Sierra Leone, and the world is watching.”
He went on to ask, “What are the plans to show the Judiciary’s readiness to promote Electoral Justice in the country?”
On his part, Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice Hon. Desmond Babatunde Edwards outlined his institution’s preparedness and, at the same time, pinpointed the challenges, especially finance and logistics.
He said as much as those challenges are key to achieving an overwhelming success, they wouldn’t stop the judiciary from doing its job in the administration of justice.
To allay the UN Resident Coordinator’s fears, Hon. Chief Justice Edwards said the Electoral Division of the High Court has been set up. He added that Judges would be deployed in every District in addition to those Magistrates already deployed across the country to ensure a speedy conclusion of all matters brought before the Court.
He said all those commitments require a huge amount of money to be able to establish a functional independent Registry where Registrars would also be deployed for effective and efficient Justice delivery.
“We are yet to receive money from the Government and the UNDP. We need money, and we are calling for more support. Our Communications and Public Affairs Unit is very key in this entire exercise, so we intend to recruit Outreach Officers to strengthen the Unit,” the Chief Justice said.
Few months to the national elections, he said, “we don’t even have vehicles. Some of our Judges are without vehicles not to talk about the 34 Magistrates.” He reiterated that there is urgent need to provide vehicles for all the Judges before deployment.
He said the Judiciary is working closely with the UNDP for support like the printing of an updated compendium and the training of Judges before they would be deployed.
In regard to reforms on the laws, he said the Rules of Court Committee have reviewed the Election Petition Rules with a lot of welcoming reforms. He assured that the enabling environment would be created for everybody to access timely Justice.
Simonetta Rossi, the UN Peace and Development Adviser, spoke about the need to complete the amendment of the 1965 Criminal Procedure Act, assuring that she would engage the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to speedily complete the process before the expiration of this Parliament.
The UN Senior Human Rights Adviser, Christian Mukosa, also brought to the attention of the Hon. Chief Justice that some members of the public are complaining about the action of impersonated Bailiffs around town. He encouraged the Hon. Chief Justice to address the concern.
In his quick response, Hon. Chief Justice Edwards said he would pay due consideration to it, revealing that plans are under way to amend the Sheriffs Ordinance, which came into being on 17th September, 1921.
He said even though the Bailiffs are not enough, that couldn’t be a strong reason for impersonators to call themselves Bailiffs. He called on the public to be vigilant and report impersonators to the nearest police station.