The president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Hon Justice George Gelaga King, has said lack of highly competent and ‘credentialized’ judges to sit in the Supreme Court will soon make it constitutionally moribund and defunct.
Justice King made this observation yesterday at the British Council when he served as the keynote speaker at the Sierra Leone Bar Association’s national consultative conference.
Highlighting the numerous problems the judiciary is facing, Justice King referred to the recruitment of judges as top most priority to sit in the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court.
He said the compelling rationale behind that was that the constitution provided that the Supreme Court should consist of not less than five permanent justices, including the chief justice.
“At the present time there are only two permanent justices in that court, unless this desperate situation is assuaged with great expedition, the Supreme Court will soon become constitutionally moribund and defunct as there are two retired justices reappointed to the Supreme Court on yearly contract and one justice paid by the Commonwealth who is on a longer short term contract,” he noted.
In the case of the Court of Appeal, he said the “constitution provides for the court to consist of not less than seven permanent justices. Currently there are only three such permanent justices, two on short term contracts and one retired judge who is re-appointed on a yearly basis.”
Apart from the three permanent justices, he continued, the other three who were currently officiating in the Court of Appeal and the three short-term contract justices in the Supreme Court did so under a stopgap measure.
He said the stopgap justices hardly likely reach judgment stage within a year allotted to them under short term contracts. “As more and more fresh cases are added to the lists of these justices, so the yearly contracts of the justices will have to be renewed if those fresh cases are to be concluded-an obvious case of a vicious cycle”
The situation at the High Court, he said, had improved with the comparative recent appointment of seven permanent judges and one short term judge even though there were vacancies for at least two more judges. “The constitution provides that there shall be not less than nine judges of the High Court to be appointed to the three courts. Anything short of the stipulated number infringes, if not violates, the constitution,” he stated. Justice King mentioned the problem of bribery and corruption as cankerworms facing the judiciary. He said, “the sad and painful thing is that some officials in the judiciary are said to be corrupt. There is scarcely a member of the judiciary who is not aware of this unworthy, disgraceful and shameful practice.”