Quoting Justice Olatorla Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) lawyer Yada Williams said in his submission that “the [criminal libel] law is a deadly weapon that is open to abuse.”
He made this submission yesterday at the ongoing legal proceedings between the associations [SLAJ] and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice at the Supreme Court.
Lawyer Williams submitted that “sections 26, 27 and 32 to 37 of the Public Order Act (POA) of 1965 have been unconstitutional…”
“These provisions”, he argued, “violates section 25 of the 1991 constitution of Sierra Leone. The right to Freedom of expression is unlimited.” The implied section “contravenes section 25 of the constitution,” he said. Strengthening his argument whilst quoting several authorities to support his case, Lawyer Williams referred to several cases: the Charles Onyango Obbo against the Attorney General case at the Supreme Court of Uganda the Rangarajan against Javigan Ram and others case which was reported in the law report of the Commonwealth; the Wango against the state and the Chadvan duka case.
In all the cases mentioned, the lawyer for the plaintiff clearly explained how the Supreme Court “struck out” the criminal libel provisions in their laws.
“The criminal libel law is open-ended. If something is criminal it should be criminal at all times but not at the whims and caprices of one man,” argued lawyer Williams.
He agreed with section 25(2) of the constitution which states the right of freedom of expression is totally without limit.
“If there are restrictions [to freedom of expression] it should be justifiable in a democratic state,” he argued.
“It is my submission that the standard set by section 25(2) is objective and not subjective,” submitted the SLAJ lawyer.
He further submitted that Sierra Leone does not have to adhere to local standards but universal democratic standards.
Lawyer Williams said, “the burden of proof that the right of freedom guaranteed by the constitution is reasonable and justifiable by the democratic state rests upon the person seeking the limitation.”
He pointed out that the counsels for the State have “woefully failed to discharge that burden i.e. the burden of justifying the limitation.”
Counsel for the plaintiff (SLAJ) argued that the case filed by the defense (State) counsel do not refer to any case law authority “they do not provide any case law authority to show that the limitation is reasonably justifiable in any democratic society,” he said.
Lawyer Williams concluded his submission by stating that section 25(2) creates a limitation upon the extent to which the freedom of expression can be limited. In other words the government does not have to go about limiting people’s freedom of expression even if the first hurdle is crushed and even if they can justify that the limitation is in the interest of public order.
The second is that whatsoever is done should be reasonably justified by the constitution.
Defense Counsel L M Farmer said that they rely on the statement filed dated 10th April 2008. “we also rely on all submission and argument,” he said.
Lawyer Farmer said, “our argument are strongly on limitations which he [plaintiff counsel] has conceded.”
Lawyer Williams objected, saying “I did not say there should be limitation to freedom of expression.”
The legal proceedings presided over by Supreme Court Judges headed by Chief Justice Umu Hawa Tejan Jalloh said that they will inform the court on the date for judgment.