By Joseph Milton Lebbie….
One of the fundamental principles of democracy is the independence of the Judiciary. The Judiciary must be allowed to dispense justice freely and fairly without undue political interference so as to ensure justice which is one of the cardinal requirements for the peace and prosperity of any nation.
In Sierra Leone, our Judiciary is dependent on government for employment and salaries. Judges are nominated by the President and approved by Parliament and they are paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. Such an arrangement makes it very difficult for such a Judiciary to be independent. Economic independence is the backbone of complete independence.
As long as some of our Magistrates and Judges are hired by government, it will be extremely difficult for them to rule against the government even in a case where the government is at fault.
You can hardly expect a judge to rule against the President who appointed him or the government that pays him from the state controlled Consolidated Revenue Fund.
So, oftentimes, some of our judges and magistrates are caught in the dilemma of dispensing justice and retaining their jobs when it comes to matters of state interest.
Many of us saw the way the judiciary handled the petition cases Julius Maada Bio and the sacked Vice-President, Chief Samuel Sam Sumana.
The verdicts of those cases were just too obvious. A judge would have to be saint to rule against a sitting president or a governing party. Show me the Magistrate or Judge who would want to sacrifice his or her lucrative job on the altar of justice. Self-preservation is the first law of nature.
If we are really serious about the independence of our Judiciary and the free and fair dispensation of justice, then we should try to achieve complete independence of our Judiciary both in terms of employment and emoluments.
Measures must be put in place to ensure that our Magistrates and Judges feel very independent. They must be in a position to resist the undue interference of politicians without risking their jobs. Only then will we be talking about free and fair justice delivery which is the hallmark of every democratic state.
But for now, some of our Magistrates and Judges seem to be tied to the opinion string of the government. So, whenever a citizen or institution is unfortunate to have a case with the government, it will be very difficult if not impossible for the verdict of that case to go against the government. Seldom do we hear that a person or institution has won a case against the government in our courts, it is usually the other way round.
And sometimes, it will be unfair to blame the magistrates and judges as they also want to protect their jobs.
During the regime of the notorious Ugandan Junta Leader, Idi Amin, a judge was dragged from his bench in his full regalia and tortured to death for defying Amin’s instruction by acquitting a journalist.
The new Chief Justice and the new Attorney General and Minister of Justice must work hand-in-gloves to ensure that the Judiciary is free from political interference.