The High Court of Sierra Leone has refused the injunction asked for by disqualified Vice Presidential aspirant Theo Nicol. This was after Nicol’s Lawyer Sulaiman Kabba Koroma failed to convince Justice Browne-Marke that his client had a serious case against the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) and its Electoral Commission.
Earlier the Chief Electoral Commissioner Samuel John was surprised when he was told by lawyer Yada Williams a little after 1pm in the afternoon (Monday 24th November) that he should run to court because the case was being heard yesterday Monday. Mr John had only briefed lawyer Yada Williams in the morning after it was clear that the SLAJ executive was not treating the issue with the seriousness it deserved. Although lawyer Leon Jenkins Johnston had been selected by acting SLAJ President Philip Neville to represent the Electoral Commission and SLAJ yet the lawyer had not met the electoral commission and had not even looked at the writ that was served.
Suspecting that the stage was being set for him to be embarrassed in court, electoral commissioner Samuel John appealed to the management of Awoko Newspaper (where he works as deputy editor) to secure a Lawyer on his behalf and that was how the services of Lawyer Yada Williams was secured on the morning of Monday 23rd November.
According to Lawyer Yada Williams it was when he called Lawyer Leon Jenkins Johnston to inform him that his services have been secured by the 1st defendant that he learnt that the case would be heard in the afternoon. Both Lawyer Yada Williams and his client Samuel John had been going with the view that the date stated on the writ was Thursday 25th November and had felt that the Thursday written on the writ might be Tuesday because Tuesday was the 25th. Unbeknowing to them Lawyer S.K. Koroma had secured an order for the case to be heard on Monday and the Judge had even ordered that all papers in connection with the case (i.e in defense or otherwise) should be filed before 12 noon Monday.
After the case was called with Justice Browne-Marke presiding – representations were called for and Lawyer S.K Koroma announced his appearance for the plaintiff (Theo Nicol) whilst Lawyer Yada Williams announced his appearance for the Electoral Commission who are the 1st defendant and Leon Jenkins Johnston announced his appearance for SLAJ the 2nd defendants.
Lawyer Yada Williams then proceeded to argue for an adjournment in order to file a defence, but he was stopped short by Justice Browne Marke who disclosed that he had signed an order stating that all papers in defence or otherwise should be filed before 12 noon Monday because the issue had to be resolved quickly since the elections should be held on Saturday so as to give time for an appeal to be heard if need be.
Lawyer Yada Williams argued that they (both him and his clients – the electoral commission) had not been served with the order. The Judge disclosed that Lawyer Leon Jenkins Johnston had been in his chambers in the morning and he had told him that the case would be heard (yesterday). He reiterated that he had ordered the plaintiffs lawyer (S.K.Koroma) to communicate that information to the defendants to which lawyer Koroma confirmed that he spoke to someone at the SLAJ secretariat and that his way book showed that one Ophaniel Gooding had signed for the documents on behalf of Samuel John. He Mr John told the court that he had received the documents. However although the order paper was not among the documents received by Mr John or his lawyer the Judge ordered the case to go on, brushing aside any request for an adjournment.
The plaintiffs Lawyer S.K Koroma explained about the six exhibits he had attached to the writ and quoted High Court rules order 35 sub rule 1 which deals with interlocutory injunctions.
Justice Browne Marke then asked Lawyer Koroma whether he can “sever the elections for Vice President from the rest of the elections.” Lawyer Koroma answered “yes” arguing that it was a single position being contested by individuals. He was asked again whether the elections were the “General Elections” of SLAJ and again he agreed but continued to argue that it was a single position which was being contested among other positions.
He was again asked by the Judge whether there was any qualification or eligibility for being elected to an executive position, and Lawyer Koroma again answered “yes”. He then went on to quote the constitution of SLAJ article 11(2) which the learned Judge asked him to read aloud. “To be eligible for election on the National Executive a candidate must be a paid up full member of SLAJ and must have qualified for full membership for at least three consecutive years preceding the election.”
Lawyer Koroma was asked whether his client was a fully paid up member for three consecutive years, and he answered “Yes My Lord” at which Justice Browne Marke asked him “where is the evidence?” He argued that SLAJ does not have records and even on the face of the constitution it shows that the constitution was only adopted seven years ago. Justice Browne Marke then asked him again whether he knew what was consecutive and the lawyer answered “yes”.
The Judge then asked him again whether his client was fully paid up for three consecutive years. Lawyer Koroma again argued that SLAJ had no records to show. The Judge then allowed lawyer Koroma to ask any member of SLAJ present in the court whether they were fully paid up and whether there were records to show. Mr Philip Neville was asked and he replied that only the secretariat could show that. The Judge poked fun at Mr Neville saying he is a member of the dream team and he did not expect him to say the contrary about another dream team member. There was brief laughter around the court room, but lawyer Koroma continued to argue that if given time he could bring the evidence, but the Judge dismissed him saying he had been given the whole weekend and he could not do it. The Judge further warned him for making “totally unsupported assertions” and that he is a member of the bar and he does not want him to be cited for contempt because even his client was asked that question over the radio 98.1 and he could not answer. The Judge stated that if there are no election rules then the electoral commission had to go by the constitution.
Justice Browne Marke then delivered his judgement saying “this application is refused …”
Outside the court Lawyer Koroma told Awoko that his next step is that he has “to discuss with (his) client” explaining that he does not act on his own volition but “only on the instructions of the client.”
Questioned how he felt after his application was rejected, Lawyer Koroma said “it shows some positive signs about this country because previously when people feel aggrieved about elections they get involved in violence and fighting but now when people feel aggrieved they come to court and have the court to decide and whatever decision the court takes people accept it in good faith and the spirit of comradeship is there and I could see some positive signs for future elections not only for SLAJ but for all other organizations and that is what we expect of Sierra Leoneans in this new age and it is good for this new dispensation.”
Reacting to the assertion by Awoko that this is not good for his client lawyer Koroma said “well the question of whether it is good for my client or not good for my client is objective because he thinks he has a point and we try to come to court to put forward that he has a point but the court thinks otherwise that he does not have a point but we have to accept the decision of the court and then we shall see what is our next move. So the fact that the court rejects him does not mean that he is wrong but it shows that there is the rule of law and that the court system works that is why he has taken his case to the court … you are not bound to lose every case as a lawyer nor are you bound to win every case … as you saw I was there vigorously arguing with the Judge on legal issues, at the end of the day the Judge has to decide and he decides on the law, … I think we accept the decision as of now.”
Lawyer Leon Jenkins Johnston who represented SLAJ said “SLAJ is indifferent to the application; really it is just justice taking its course, its natural course that’s what we make of it.”
He added “I believe the Judge was right in what he said, he wasn’t satisfied, you have to satisfy the court, if you fail to so do then your application will be thrown out as has been done.”
Meanwhile just about the same time that the court case was supposed to go on a meeting had been called at SLENA by the SLAJ President Philip Neville ably assisted by David Tam Baryoh another dream team member where some journalists took the decision that a committee should be set up to take the case out of court. Both Philip and David were however present in court to listen to the proceedings and left immediately after the matter was resolved.
By Kelvin Lewis