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President’s Statement – 2016 /2018

Colleagues all,

It has been a very inspiring, interesting, eye-opening, life-changing, remarkable and defining journey of 2 years since I was elected to serve as President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, the oldest in West Africa. I have been privileged and blessed to work with a team of hard-working and committed colleagues in manning the affairs of our Association for both corporate years 2016/2017 and 2017/2018. With continued cooperation and support from the general membership, we’ve taken bold steps towards a stronger, more confident, independent and relevant bar.

In June 2016 before I was first elected, I campaigned on a manifesto that pledged a strong, focused, committed and result-driven leadership. I also promised to focus on 2 core objectives if elected: first, promoting the interests and welfare of our members and second, ensuring that the Association continues to defend the rule of law, promotion of human rights and good governance. Together with my committed team, we have achieved solid and tangible results under both core objectives as guided by our work plan covering 2 years.

It has not been a journey without challenges and distractions but our focus remained steadfast on making strides towards the fulfillment of the twin objectives.

(a) Promoting the interest of members
My presidency has supported and protected the character, status and interest of the profession by catering for the welfare and well-being of members, listed as the very first object in our Memorandum of Association. Under this core objective, we concerned ourselves with and prioritized matters directly or indirectly affecting its 3 most vital dimensions – the Profession, the Practice and the Person. Our approach has been two-fold: (i) matters affecting the proper administration of justice and (ii) the introduction of SLBA member benefits and professional development.

(i) Matters affecting the proper administration of justice
To enhance the effective administration of justice, we engaged the Judiciary and the Office of the Attorney General on ways to improve functioning of our courts as well as other aspects of everyday practice and the profession. A Judiciary/Bar consultative meeting, the first of its kind and a consultative meeting with the Office of the Attorney General were held in 2017 and 2018 respectively. During both consultative meetings, issues raised by members were discussed and noted for further action where necessary by the Chief Justice and the Attorney General.

Some issues raised were subsequently included in the current Judiciary Strategic Plan of action for implementation. For instance the general state of the central filing room in the main Law Courts Building in Freetown, suggestions for establishment of a proper court management and electronic filing system, the non-timely delivery of Judgments despite a mandatory constitutional provision to the effect, having colleagues of between 1 to 3 years post Call experience being recruited by the Judiciary to serve as clerks/legal researchers to Judges to assist them with preparatory work on cases as well as legal research. Our rationale for this proposal is that it could serve a dual beneficial purpose of providing pupilage and experience for newly called Barristers as well as aiding the timely delivery of final judgments and rulings. It is my hope that we will see these being actualized in the near future.

In collaboration with the Judiciary and support from the UK DFID funded Justice Sector Recovery Program, a case management capacity building training for members was held in July 2017. The goal of the training was to improve the Bar’s understanding of the new role of Judges and promote compliance in line with the Judiciary’s 2016-2018 strategic priorities.

As a further demonstration of the Association’s commitment to support efforts in enhancing effective justice delivery, the Executive established and handed over a fully computerized Sub-Treasury for the Fast Track Commercial Courts (FTCC) to the judiciary in June 2018. The Sub-Treasury which is fully equipped with scanning, photocopy and printing facilities for the court was an initiative of the SLBA supported by the Judiciary and the National Revenue Authority to reduce the time and cost for filing of process at the court. Its establishment has reduced the time for filing court process from an average of 2.7 to less than 0.6 days thus impacting positively on Sierra Leone’s rating in the World Bank Doing Business Indicators for 2018. Another project undertaken by the SLBA at the High Court presided over by Justice Manuela Harding at the Ross Road Courts saw the provision of a raised Judges’ dais and witness box for that courtroom. Both projects were undertaken solely by financial contributions from some members to whom we remain grateful.

(ii) Member Benefits/Professional Development/Welfare
Law reporting: Considering that Law Reports are germane to the successful practice of our trade, my executive made it a priority and established the SLBA Law Reports Committee, chaired by our learned Senior Yada Williams Esq with the mandate to revive the publication of the SLBA Law Reports. The committee has made tremendous progress towards the preparation of the next set of reports amidst challenges and I am proud to inform that the reports will be released soon– hopefully before the end of 2018. The Association remains grateful to the General Legal Council for the provision of the initial funds for this project.

Young Lawyers: A Young Lawyers Welfare Committee was set up to concern itself with issues affecting colleagues of 1 to 5 years post Call such as pupilage, professional practice and ethics, trial advocacy and other areas of law and opportunities for capacity building. Ensuring that lawyers fresh out of Law School have placements to undergo pupilage is a growing concern. My executive raised it with the Chief Justice and all 3 Attorneys General that we were opportuned to work with. I hope that the push for amendment of the Legal Practitioners’ Act 2000 in this regard will continue and eventually materialize.

Several trainings on professional practice and ethics and trial advocacy skills were organized in collaboration with the United Kingdom Inns of Court College of Advocacy and Project Umubano (UK). In May 2018, the International Bar Association extended its IBA Developing Bars Program in which fully funded scholarships are awarded on a competitive basis to young lawyers to attend its annual conference to the Association. This is the first time the SLBA has been included in the IBA Developing Bars scholarship program and am proud to report that all 6 of our applicants were selected. We wish them well as they fly the SLBA flag in Rome, Italy in October 2018!

Links with International Bars: We have also re-established membership and links with regional and international Bar Associations. Of particular note is the renewal of our membership in the African Bar Association (AfBA) and the International Bar Association (IBA). We were represented at the AfBA Re-Birth Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2016 and its annual conference in Port Harcourt, Nigeria in 2017. The SLBA was also represented at the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) Annual Conference in Nairobi, Kenya in 2016 and the IBA Africa Regional Forum conference in Accra, Ghana in August 2017. In 2017 the Governing Council of the African Bar Association awarded the right to host and house its Legal and Leadership Training Institute to the Sierra Leone Forum. Discussions have commenced with previous Attorneys General to secure a location for the Institute as part of the Government of Sierra Leone’s contribution to this laudable project. I am also privileged to have been elected to serve as the Vice President for West Africa of the African Bar Association, a position I hold to date. My executive also established initial links with the International Criminal Court Bar Association (ICC-BA).

UK-SRA: A successful joint General Legal Council/Sierra Leone Bar Association effort resulted in Sierra Leone being approved for and granted recognized jurisdiction status for the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) by the United Kingdom Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) in 2017. This means that qualified legal practitioners from Sierra Leone may now be eligible for the UK Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme, through which qualified lawyers from other jurisdictions may qualify as a Solicitor of England and Wales.

Establishing strong relationships with these regional and international associations has made our Association not only more visible on the regional and international stage, but has exposed our members to limitless opportunities for career development, enhancement and experience sharing.

Trainings/Seminar/Workshops: Several seminars, trainings and workshops were organized for members including on: Bail and Sentencing in collaboration with the Judiciary; Prosecution of Environmental Crimes in collaboration with the Environment Protection Agency; Professional Practice, Ethics and Trial Advocacy in collaboration with the Inns of Court College of Advocacy, UK; the Borrowers and Lenders Act 2014 and Collateral Registry Program in collaboration with the Bank of Sierra Leone and the International Finance Corporation; Litigation Beyond Borders – Appearing Before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the West African Community Court of Justice (Ecowas Court) in collaboration with the University of Makeni Faculty of Law; Legal Empowerment and Public Interest Litigation in collaboration with OSIWA; Electoral Laws and Representation in Electoral Courts in collaboration with the Judicial and Legal Training Institute and the UNDP; Case Management in collaboration with the Judicial and Legal Training Institute, the Ghana Judiciary and the UK Justice Recovery Program.

Regional SLBA: In 2016, the executive appointed 3 of our members to serve as SLBA Liaison Persons for the 3 regions apart from the Western Area namely the Eastern, Northern and Southern regions. They were charged with the responsibility of coordinating the Bar’s affairs with colleagues in the respective regions as directed by the President and the Executive so as to keep them au fait with and involved in the activities of the Bar.

Protecting the status of the profession: In line with our mandate to protect the status of the profession and the need to protect the public from unregulated persons and/or entities, the Executive was very much concerned with the Court of Appeal Judgment in the Matter Between Millicent Lewis Ojumu and Others (Appellants) versus the General Legal Council and the Corporate Affairs Commission (Respondents). Members of the Bar expressed disappointment with the said Judgment at an extraordinary general meeting convened to discuss its consequences for the legal profession in Sierra Leone. A Resolution was passed calling inter alia for its speedy appeal to the Supreme Court by the General Legal Council with support from the Bar. The said appeal is yet to be concluded.

Website: The SLBA website was revived after it had been non-functional for several years. It is now updated with a register of lawyers licensed to practice in Sierra Leone and other information pertinent to the Bar’s mandate and activities. I therefore encourage you all to visit the website on www.barassociation.sl.

Other membership benefits: In a bid to encourage payment of membership dues, our executive signed MOUs with the Sierra Leone Airports Authority and Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority for the provision of certain services at a discounted or special rate to our registered and paid up members. Details of the contents of these MOUs are contained in the report to the General Secretary.

Under my 2nd core objective, I pledged that the SLBA will continue to participate in and have a voice on issues of national importance. Even though this was not listed as one of the objects of the company in our Memorandum and Articles of Association, it is widely agreed that the Bar must be seen to act as a pressure group on all spheres of society including governments to ensure adherence to the rule of law, democratic principles and good governance. As a Bar we’ve always strove to maintain that fine balance between limitations placed on us by the nature of our constitution and the expectations of the public who regard us as the upholders and defenders of Right.

Issues of national importance: In this regard, the SLBA representatives on the nation’s Constitutional Review Committee participated in this all-important process to its conclusion and their report to the Association was distributed to members. It is my hope that the constitutional review committee report will be tabled again for discussion by the Government of Sierra Leone.

In the aftermath of several incidents of a national character warranting the attention of the Association, Press Releases were issued as follows:

In August 2016 during an unfortunate incident in Kabala, Koinadugu District over the alleged relocation of a proposed Youth Village, the Association issued a Press Release condemning the killings, use of force, injuries to persons and destruction of property that occurred during the incident. The Association also called on the Government of Sierra Leone to expeditiously institute an independent and impartial inquiry into the causes of the said incident including the roles of the Sierra Leone Police, the protesting factions and any member of the public in the incident. Unfortunately even though an inquiry was instituted by the Sierra Leone Police the findings of that inquiry are yet to be released.

In November 2016, the Association issued a Press Release expressing concern regarding a 60% increase in the pump prices of petrol, diesel and kerosene at a time when the citizenry was battling with socio-economic challenges. We called on the Government to review the increase in the interests of the people whilst entreating all and sundry to exercise restraint and be law-abiding due to the then prevailing volatile situation. Again in November 2016, the SLBA issued a press release after the publication of a Minute Paper signed by the Director of Communications in the Ministry of Information and Communications purporting to hold administrators of WhatsApp Groups responsible for the contents of postings in the respective platforms created and hosted by them. The Association took the view that this contravened the right to free speech as contained in S. 25 of the Constitution and called on the Government to abandon the position expressed in the said Minute Paper.

In 2018, the SLBA joined the call by other civil society partners and issued a press release calling on the Sierra Leone Police and the Government to reverse the unconstitutional ban placed on citizens’ freedom of movement for the general elections slated for 7th March 2018 as the restriction was not justified by law. The SLBA also condemned the plethora of hate speech and incendiary language that was used by some political party stakeholders and supporters in the print and social media in the run up to the Presidential Run-Off elections that took place on 31 March 2018. We urged all political stakeholders including candidates and political parties of their civic obligation as set out in Part II of the Constitution and S. 153 of the Public Elections Act 2012.

During the unfortunate incident surrounding the convening of the 5th Parliament of the Republic in April 2018, the SLBA condemned the incidents and reminded all stakeholders especially members of the Legislature of their duty to observe and respect the laws of Sierra Leone, uphold the rule of law and work in the national interest. In another press release in line with the SLBA’s role of defending adherence to the rule of law, we also urged the National Electoral Commission to comply with orders handed down by a competent court until they are reversed or overturned by the same or higher competent court.

Flagship Projects: Building Project, SLBA 2018 Elections Project, Legal War Against Ebola II (LeWAE-2).
Our executive has succeeded in raising funds for the construction of a perimeter fence to secure the Association’s 1 acre property/land situated at Bellair Park in central west Freetown pending the commencement of the construction of the building. Despite the difficulty of raising funds, this was made possible solely by support received from some of our members (who are named in the Building Committee Report) and Mercury International Sierra Leone Ltd. The 1 acre land is now fully fenced, gated and secured.

The 2017/2018 corporate year also saw the successful implementation of our 2018 Elections Project with support from the Rule of Law Team of the United Nations Development Program. The project was a direct result of the theme of our 2017 Annual Conference and AGM: “Fostering Credible Electoral processes in Sierra Leone: The Role of the Sierra Leone Bar Association in Ensuring Credible Elections”. The project comprised 4 main components:
a. the production and launching of a simplified Handbook on Electoral laws and Processes governing presidential, parliamentary and local council elections,
b. nationwide popularization of the Handbook and training of university and tertiary institution students and other stakeholders on electoral laws,
c. providing pro bono legal representation and advice to vulnerable citizens (especially women) in electoral courts in the 4 main regions of the country i.e. east, north, south and west,
d. Nationwide media sensitization on electoral laws and processes.

The SLBA also served as an accredited local elections observer body with a 90-member observer team deployed nationwide during the 7th March and 31st March 2018 elections. The Association has submitted 2 full reports on both elections to the National Electoral Commission.

The LeWAE-2 project was implemented with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and is a continuation of the Association’s Legal war Against Ebola project which was launched in 2014 in the wake of the outbreak of ebola virus disease in the country. Its objective was to improve access to justice and socio-economic rights for survivors and victims of the ebola virus disease. Two consultative meetings were held in collaboration with the Sierra Leone Association of Ebola Survivors (SLAES) to ascertain their justice needs with the aim of providing legal services to them including possible enactment of legislation. These meetings were held in Makeni City for the Northern Region and Bo City for the Southern region. The consultative meetings have set the stage for the implementation of the overall objectives of the project going forward. Follow up and engagement by the SLBA with relevant government, development, health and donor partners is needed to further the ultimate objectives of the project. I also encourage members to volunteer to engage in pro bono work for survivors and victims through the executive.

At this point, let me take this opportunity to thank the following partners for their support to the successful implementation of our objectives and projects over the past 2 corporate years: United Nations Development Program (Rule of Law Team), Open Society Initiative for West Africa, National Electoral Commission, Inns of Court College of Advocacy (UK), Project Umubano UK, General Legal Council, Mercury International Charitable Foundation. I must also personally thank all colleagues, seniors, my contemporaries and juniors who believed in my capabilities, re-elected me and contributed in one way or the other to successful completion of my tenure. My special thanks to the hardworking and dedicated colleagues with whom I served on the executive during both corporate years – Mohamed Lamin Tarawally, Julian Coleq, Ashmia Fofana, AbuBakarr Turay, Precious Fewry, Franklin Campbell, Sonia Osho- Willaims, Walter Nicol, Derek Beoku-Betts, Ishmael Philip Mammie, Aminata Sillah, James Momodu Fornah-Sesay and President Emeritus Ibrahim Sorie. You were an awesome team and I couldn’t have completed this journey without your support, guidance and dedication. The credit goes to all of us and I take full responsibility for all mistakes and /or omissions. Thanks also to the administrative staff at the Bar Secretariat for all your hard work.

I remain humbled for the confidence reposed in me by you all and the opportunity to serve the only profession I have known and loved for the past 17 years at the highest level. I pray that the things that unite us will be more than those that divide us. Let us strive to put the interest of our beloved Association above all else in the face of all internal and external opposition and challenges. May unity, freedom and justice prevail in our beloved nation.

I thank my dearest husband Mr. Shekou Ansumana Nuni for his continued support and show of understanding. Above all, I thank my unchanging Heavenly Father for His faithfulness!

God bless you all and Fiat Justitia!
Rhoda Sufian-Kargbo (Ms.)
President- 2016-2018.