October 2, 2022

Current media debates and public discussions revolve around sacking of the Attorney-General (AG), Dr Priscillia Schwartz by His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio.

The debates insinuate that the sacking has close links with the AG’s failure to prove a case against Alfred Paolo Conteh who was slammed with a treason charge three months back.

Conteh has always been behind bars since the allegation was made against him considering that treason carries capital punishment.

From the inception of the trial, many people were taken aback wondering why Paolo Conteh would take pleasure to overthrow a democratically elected President.

Now that the treason question has been answered through the acquittal, the call for compensation law has reached a high peak.

The call is premised on incidents, procedural errors and flaws that often lead to miscarriages of justice.

Most times, Miscarriage of justice often begins from the time of arrest, investigation and arraignment.

The Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) of 1965 which regulates police power and criminal trials make provisions for the procedural correctness of arrest and detention of persons before charged to court.

Sections 12 and 13 of CPA specify circumstances under which a person can be arrested without warrant.

Section 12 talks about the power of any member of a public to effect arrest and section 13 establishes police powers of arrest.

However, arrests outside the normal chain of command and without warrant are rife as police, most times, arrest and detain persons for a civil wrong.

Once arrested, crime suspects are often held in police cells longer than the prescribed maximum detention periods, sometimes with impunity.

The cases of Awareness Times Publisher, Dr Sylvia Blyden, the Wife of Mr Paolo Conteh, Isata Saccoh among others are typical examples of procedural breaches of police arrest and detention.

Since unlawful detention is the product of unlawful arrest, it can be argued safely that a police officer who arrests and detains unlawfully can also resort to bad investigation methods being the foundation of miscarriages of justice.

A great number of accused persons have languished or are languishing bars owing to poor investigation methods.

Most have come out or they would come to begin a new, battered and shattered life without compensation.

The trial of Paolo Conteh and two employees of the Commission on Small Arms, Sahr Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Hughes exposes weak links in the country’s law enforcement machinery.

The officials who recently stood for crimes relating to treason have been set free as the prosecution has failed to make a case against them.

The prosecution’s poor performance at the trial was a consequence of failure to pay attention to technical errors particularly one that has to do with: ‘One man cannot commit treason.’

Another blunder on the part of the prosecution was that they misjudged the circumstances surrounding the commission of treason.

A government lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity told Nightwatch that Mr Alfred Paolo Conteh committed a “forgivable error” by taking a loaded weapon to State House.

Making a clear analysis on the circumstances of the treason case, the lawyer started off by explaining that Conteh was in a hurry to attend a meeting with His Excellency upon invitation.

The brown bag which, he said contained the Glock-17 and 21 pistols were in Mr Conteh’s vehicle.

He also explained that evidence indicates that the bag was removed from the vehicle only when five boys approached him and expressed their intention to wash his vehicle.

“Any rational thinker would know that Mr Conteh’s action of removing the brown bag from the vehicle was a safety precaution to prevent the weapon from falling in wrong hands,” he asserted.

Coming to Conteh’s behaviour at the scanning machine, the lawyer indicated that it was a question of regulation of Paolo Conteh by telling him to place his bag on the scanner or he returns home without attending the meeting.

“The mere fact that Mr Conteh hands over his bag to the security personnel at the scanning machine whether voluntary or not also indicates that the intention to overthrow the President is virtually non-existent,” he analysed.

Paolo Conteh was arrested and statements were obtained from him and later released on personal recognisance.

He was at home and later invited to the Criminal Investigation departments for charges of treason.

The incoherence manner, the lawyer said, in which Paolo Conteh was investigated by the CID manifested by the invitation and release of Conteh in a treason case shows that the investigators did not know what they were doing.

The law office being the last resort for legal advice for police files participated in the maverick by upholding the treason charge.

The result today is terrible as the AG has been disgracefully kicked away from an enviable office.

It is a lesson from which law enforcement officers would learn and make necessary amends in their day-to day execution of their duties.

A British Prisoner who suffered a miscarriage of justice ten years ago was compensated millions of British Pound out of tax payers’ money.

Former Inspector-General Police was ordered in 2007 by a magistrate court in Freetown to compensate a lady who was unlawfully detained at Central Police Station.

Considering the inefficiencies in law enforcement institutions in Sierra Leone, it is imperative for government to start to think about a compensation law for victims of blatant miscarriages of justice.

A great number of Sierra Leoneans would argue that the call for compensation of victims of miscarriage of justice is far-fetched, but many say it is prudent.

One may argue that although it is non-existent in most countries of the world especially Africa, Sierra Leone may be labelled as the first in Africa to initiate and implement a novelty in the justice system.

The initiation and implementation of such a compensation law would bring two benefits to the country.

It will remind the country’s historical role in the maintenance of International justice as Sierra Leone played host to the Vice Admiralty court, a court that freed slaves and tried slave dealers caught on the high seas after the Murray Mansfield’s Ban in the 19th Century.

Most importantly, it would compel law enforcement officers to think critically before sending matters to court so that they would stop leaping in the dark.