The Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) is a voluntary association of legal practitioners practicing law in Sierra Leone. Members of this revered association are expected to be the foot soldiers of our Constitution, hence the legal conscience of the people.
Over the years, the SLBA has been described as a dysfunctional association and therefore seen to have outlived its usefulness. Many practicing lawyers have criticized the Bar Association because it failed to stand the test of time in championing critical national issues that has to do with constitutionality and democratic good governance. Prominent among them is lawyer Rashid Dumbuya-Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone. He has condemned the unnecessary positions created by the Association as well as the dumb nature of the SLBA principally on the unorthodox 1965 Public Order Act, which undermines Press Freedom or Freedom of Expression. In fact, Commissioner Dumbuya brought the Association’s attention to Section 25 of the Constitution of Sierra Leone (Act No.6) of 1991 which provides for the Freedom of Expression and of the Press.
Lawyer Rashid Dumbuya urged the SLBA to “rise up to the occasion and agitate for the repeal of the Public Order Act.”
“The Sierra Leone Bar Association’s existence in the current democratic dispensation is a disgrace,” averred the Outreach and Media Advisor of Global Africa Media-Arthur Aiah Kabbah. “The Association has been widely politicized. This has reduced the effectiveness of the association to the gutter as the executive will not take any decision that undermines the undemocratic use of power by their political parties-be it ruling or opposition.”
The President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association-Lawyer Rhoda Nuni has denied this claimed. In a telephone interview, Mrs. Nuni said members of the SLBA are allowed to belong to any political party of their choice.
She remarked that, “as lawyers much is expected of us from the public. Many look up to our Bar Association for leadership on numerous issues of national concern. Ours is a profession that commands respect. When utilized in the best traditions of advocacy and justice there is none other like ours.” The unanswered question is, what is the position of the SLBA on the Police ban or restrictions of movements on elections day-7th March, 2018? This falls directly under the SLBA’s purview.
Is the SLBA a lame duck? Or in the words of Emmerson Bockarie, “Messi says his hands are tied.” Without recourse, this issue would have been championed by the SLBA especially in interpreting the relevant Sections, Chapters, Acts that gives the Sierra Leone Police the legal mandate to Ban or restrict the movements of citizens/vehicles on elections day. Kudos to Dr. Sylvia Blyden-former Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and Lawyer Jusu Kallon who came out strongly to reject the breach of the Constitution by the Sierra Leone Police. Lawyer Kallon wrote a simplified letter to the Inspector General of Police-Dr. Richard Moigbeh on this issue. At least a simple Press Release from the SLBA, no matter how weak it is would have sufficed.
In one of his many condemnations of the numerous weak press releases issued by the SLBA, Commissioner Rashid Dumbuya notes, “Without prejudice to its content, the press release from the SLBA dated 8th November, 2013 is in my humble opinion overtly weak and nebulous. I hold this opinion because it says nothing about the reform of the libel law itself, which in my view, is the very precursor for the incessant violations of press freedom in the country.”
Even though the SLBA’s hands are tied, Mrs. Rhoda Nuni affirmed that, “We remain conscious of our social obligation to protect the rule of law and to give advice to bear on contemporary national issues when matters of legal significance come to bear.” So the much debated Ban/Restriction is not a “matter of legal significance?” And yet Mrs. Rhoda Nuni said “SLBA is busy and closely following the debates on Ban/Restriction by the Sierra Leone Police.”
I am not a lawyer but I have some encyclopedic knowledge of the law. I therefore hold the view that an agreement to do an illegal act does not make it legal in the eyes of the law. It is very unfortunate that some Political Parties seem to have endorsed such an illegal restriction on the constitutional freedom of movement of citizens, without regard to its legality or constitutionality.
Truth be told, if lawyers were on each other’s throat to an extent of publicly misbehaving at the Law Courts building on Siaka Steven Street during the height of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease, what else will be surprising. The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans were informed that this was why the SLBA was banned from holding meeting/s at the Law Court building. But the current SLBA President argued that they have recently organized at least five meetings at the Law Courts building. This misbehavior was, according to some lawyers, principally based on political affiliations as the SLBA erstwhile President was a member of the ruling All People’s Congress party whilst his Deputy was a card carrier of the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party. This was also debunked by Mrs. Rhoda Nuni.
Many Sierra Leoneans are of the view that the independence of our institutions has been compromised and integrity is now lacking not only among politicians but every sector.
In Sierra Leone, many lawyers have dented the good image of the legal profession. Some are either reported rogues or fraudsters. The General Legal Council has kept sealed lips on these unhealthy and uncivilized attitudes/actions of some lawyers who defrauded or connive to dupe their clients for selfish gains. This must stop as many complaints have been received by The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans. One of such was Lawyer John Mans. Another Chambers (name withheld) did not spare their clients. What is the Bar Association doing to sanitize the legal profession for a healthy practice?
To allude to this, Lawyer Emmanuel Roberts in one of his lectures, on the topic: “The role, challenges, and expectations of the lawyer in present day Sierra Leone” admitted that, lawyers generally and the Sierra Leone Bar Association in particular have been the subject of much debate criticism and complaint, often justifiably.”
Indeed some Bar Associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction; others are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members; in many cases, they are both. In many Commonwealth jurisdictions, the Bar Association comprises lawyers who are qualified as Barristers or advocates in particular, versus Solicitors. Membership in Bar Associations may be mandatory or optional for practicing Attorneys, depending on jurisdiction. It is therefore not too late to bring reforms and reboot the SLBA in restoring the lost public confidence-the SLBA has been politicized-as charged.
The SLBA should be a proponent of social reform because lawyers have an affirmative duty, arising from their status or role, to actively promote particular values-through litigation (including representation), taking public positions, and engender national debates.
The erudite Lawyer-Emmanuel Roberts went further to affirm that, “Complaints of misconduct of various kinds have been reported both privately and publicly. Quite candidly some colleagues are to our knowledge guilty of behaving disgracefully to their clients, their colleagues and the court etc. Exuding confidence should not be mistaken for a show of arrogance and disregard for your client. Do not forget who pays the fees. Inelegant and unprofessional language is unacceptable in this profession; remember ours is the learned profession.”
This is The Pen of The Voiceless Sierra Leoneans with Elkass Sannoh