Bar Association writes Police IG, concerned over attacks on lawyers

The Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA), on Wednesday 20th May 2020, expressed concern about the recent attacks on their members and stated, “We would legally challenge any attempt at using the power to investigate as a weapon to silent Legal Practitioners in the performance of their duties.” The Association’s direction came as a result of receipt of several complaints from their membership with regards abuse of suspects pre-trial rights by the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) during investigations. These concerns were channeled through a letter addressed to the Inspector General of Police, Ambrose Sovula, on the “Conduct of Police towards Legal Practitioners”. Three abuses were identified by the Association; 1) detention of suspects, 2) deprivation of suspects’ access to legal representation during detention and 3) obtaining of statements and suspects’ right to communicate with his/her Legal Practitioner in confidence as prescribed in section 17(2)b and 17 (3) of the 1991 Constitution, Act No.6 of 1991. They went further to highlight the invitation of Ady Macauley on Tuesday 19 May 2020, on the basis that he was being investigated for “perverting the course of justice” merely because an online publication alluded to him as the leader of a defense team for certain accused persons. “The Bar Association finds all of the above highly unfortunate and reprehensible. We are constrained to state that we view these actions as an attack on the Legal Profession and an attempt to denigrate Legal Practitioners and their duties in representing their clients,” the letter reads. Asked whether the Bar at any point tried to engage the Police to ascertain the reason for their actions, SLBA General Secretary, Abdul Karim Kamara, said individual members have made engagements and spoken to the Police to express concern regarding the treatment meted out to them by the Police. “It does not mean all Police officers, just a few of them who think for one reason or the other known to them they are not quite accommodating. Or they feel threatened that with the presence of lawyers around their accused person, thinking that might just let some people off the hook. It is not like a whole ploy by the entire Police force to scare lawyers,” he said. Kamara said their executive is only trying to right the wrongs as in the very recent past lawyers had been having encounters with Police officers while referencing the Court No. 1 meeting in which they were swooped on and arrested. “Some of our colleagues had to stand their ground, that you cannot arrest our colleagues in the Court House. These are things that have been going on, we engage with the authorities and they listen to us and we make our position clear and they are working towards setting things right,” said Lawyer Kamara. Before this letter, the SLBA met with the previous Police Boss and they raised a number of issues with them basically dealing with their right to practice. This current issues being highlighted in their letter, actually came to a head following the several issues making rounds in the media landscape that people are being held for longer than necessary. “A colleague being invited and we spoke to him said to us that his invitation was with regards a publication in which a team that he leads has his name mentioned and they wanted to know whether the information came from him or he supported the publication. He told them that it did not come from him and he did not support it, he was asked to go home and I think we are fine with it,” he explained. Kamara said they believe that the Police should continue to do the right thing as they every right to call on anybody as that is what they believe in. “We support the rule of law and we have no problem with investigations being conducted by them.” He said that if the Police are saying lawyers should be exempt from investigations then they are undermining the very rule of law, which talks of equality before the law. “So we have no problem with lawyers being called upon to be interviewed especially when it is done in good faith, likewise any other citizen being called upon after all we are all under the law” he said. “We should be seen to be respecting the law; it doesn’t matter if you are a lawyer as that does not make us a special person.”

ZJ/21/5/20

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque