The Rules of Court Committee in collaboration with the National Electoral Commission (NEC) yesterday held a national workshop on the “Draft Election Petition Rules 2007”.
The workshop was to consult and fine tune the draft rules to finally present a set of rules which would regulate election petitions.
The chairman of the Court Committee, Chief Justice Dr Ade Renner-Thomas at the opening ceremony which took place at the Miatta Conference hall in Freetown, said it was the first time after exactly two decades that parliamentary elections were going to be held on a constituency basis.
He noted that the last two elections, held in 1996 and 2006, were held on the basis of party list and as such no election petitions were filed to challenge the return of any individual Member of Parliament.
Dr Renner-Thomas pointed out that before the last elections held in 1987, the then Chief Justice made the election petition rules 1986 published as public notice now statutory instrument No 12 of 1986 and that these were the rules that the Court Committee had revised and produced a draft of.
The Chief Justice added that, “it is also the first time that the rules to govern election petitions are being made not by the Chief Justice alone but by the rules of the court committee”.
Explaining the enabling act that gave them the powers to make such rules for election petitions, Dr Ade Renner-Thomas among other constitutional instruments accentuated that, “Section 145 sub section 2 of the constitution empowers the committee to make rules of court generally”.
The workshop, the chairman of the Rules Court Committee said, “is to consult and educate all stakeholders”.
He noted further that the Court Committee would be consulting on crucial issue like- who had the right (Locus Standi) to bring an election petition to the courts, how soon after elections results should election petitions be filed.
The Chief Justice said they would also be looking at the question of where the petition should be filed-only in Freetown as used to be in the old rules or should the committee consider the spirit of decentralization drive and petitions be filed in Makeni, Bo or Kenema and what was the quantum of cost to be deposited by the petitioner and how many sureties should be produced on filing his petition.
He maintained that they would also have to decide whether the respondent which would include the returning officer be required to file an answer to the several allegations made by the petitioner because the rules now did not make provision for the respondent to answer to the allegations.
He disclosed that the committee had not drafted any rules for the presidential election but that the elections petition rules would only be regulating petitions on the parliamentary election.
The attorney general, Fred Carew, stressed that the forthcoming election would be very keen and that there would be winners and losers but people would want to challenge the results of the elections. “So we are very happy that the Court Committee is formulating rules to address petitions”.
He said, “petition would serve as a stop gap for violence,” and advised that “now there is the courts and people should not revert to violence to settle grievances”.
Dr Christiana Thorpe, the chief electoral commissioner for NEC, said they welcome the draft electoral petition rules.
The chairman for the Law Reform Commission, Dr Peter Tucker, urged that no one should now resort to violence because the courts were now able to receive and adjudicate on any election contention.
The chairman for the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), retired Justice Sidney Warne, was the chairman for the workshop.