It is baffling that the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) should be aggrieved by the conduct of the Anti-Corruption Commission for the arrest of Honourable Justice A. B. Halloway at his chambers on June 8. The question that readily comes to mind would be: is SLBA on the side of the mass impoverished Sierra Leoneans or on the side of those who wish to perpetuate corruption and exploitation of the poor by opposing the ACC’s efforts to stamp out corruption?
It has been reported in the press in Sierra Leaone that “The Sierra Leone Bar Association after an extraordinary General Meeting held at the Court Hall, High Court No. 2 Law Courts Buildings on 12th June 2009 at the weekend circulated to media houses a press release containing Resolutions which among other things stated that the act is outrageous and maintained that the ACC should have invited him to their office at Gloucester Street rather than create a public scene for an allegation that is yet to be proved by a competent court.” (Awoko).
But is SLBA not aware that a concomitant of being suspected of having committed a criminal offence carries with it the possibility of arrest, detention (if necessary) and prosecution. This is not being presumed guilty. It is called due process of the law. If the arrest of suspects is a power to be used on ordinary Sierra Leoneans, why should it not be used against a suspect regarded as a ‘big man’ or ‘de pa’ like in Justice Halloway?
It however seems convenient for SLBA to attempt to criticise and undermine the work of the ACC and Commissioner Abdul Tejan Cole by selectively referring to a subsection of the Constitution of Sierra Leone while ignoring relevant (sub) sections. For example, SLBA chose to rely on Section 8(2)(c) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991 in arguing that the arrest of Justice Halloway would not secure and maintain the independence, impartiality and integrity of courts of law. Strangely enough, SLBA ignored Section 8(2)(a) which provides for every Sierra Leonean to have equality of rights, obligations, and opportunities before the law. If it is within the powers of the state or an agent of the state like the ACC to arrest ordinary Sierra Leoneans for suspected criminal offences, would it not be equality before the law (Section 8(2)(a) of Act No. 6 of 1991) for Justice Halloway to be arrested on suspicion of having committed a criminal offence. An independent, impartial and honest Bar and Judiciary would not take side in the arrest of a suspect. So why would SLBA suggest that Suspect Justice Halloway should be given special treatment by inviting him to the office of the ACC double standards.
By it very opposition to this arrest, SLBA itself appears to undermine the integrity, dignity and public confidence of the entire Judicial System in Sierra Leone. This author takes the view that the SLBA’s reference to Sections 95 and 100 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No. 6 of 1991 is misguided or ill-conceived. Firstly, Justice Halloway was arrested in his chambers and so he was therefore not arrested on his way to or from Parliament. That being the case, the arrest could not be seen as a obstructing or impeding any Member or officer in the discharge of his duties or affronting the dignity of Parliament. In
hort, the arrest of Justice Halloway by the ACC cannot be contempt of Parliament. Secondly, Sections 95 and 100 of of Act No. 6 of 1991 have no application to the arrest of Justice Halloway because Section 66 of the Anti-Corruption Act No. 12 of 2008 which bestows arrest powers on the ACC cannot be said to be in violation of the Constitution of Sierra Leone (i.e. Act No. 6 of 1991). In the absence of any contention that the Sections 66 and 70 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2008 breached the Constitution of Sierra Leone, the ACC and Commissioner Abdul Tejan Cole were entitled to arrest, without warrant, Justice Halloway upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or being about to commit an offence under the Anti-Corruption Act of 2008.
SLBA’s protestations in its press release in fact risk alienating its credibility and reputation in the public eye. At best, the public will perceive SLBA as being part of a corrupt judicial system which stands in the way of change all in the name of ‘a practice’ that within the judicial system of Sierra Leone neither Criminal nor Civil processes are served and/or executed within the precincts of the Law Courts Building situated along Siaka Stevens Street in Freetown. It is the view of this writer that such practice cannot be justified in the light of the provisions of the Anti-Corruption Act No. 12 of 2008 (see Sections 66, 70, etc.). In the light of these clear statutory provisions, it is surprising to know that the SLBA is attempting to criticise and undermine the actions of the ACC simply on the existence of ‘a practice’.
It is contended that in order to obey the will of Parliament where it has passed a law, any previous practice, convention or custom must no longer have any effect as this could be the mischief for which the Act was passed to remedy. Therefore Section 66, among other relevant sections of the Anti-Corruption Act No. 12 of 2008, provides lawful authority for the conduct of the ACC and Commissioner Abdul Tejan Cole in the arrest of Justice Halloway. If SLBA is unable or unwilling to support the action of the ACC, the SLBA must refrain from criticising the ACC; otherwise Sierra Leoneans would be entitled to conclude that SLBA is among the organisations opposed to change and the eradication of corruption in Sierra Leone.