October 2, 2022

By Janet A. Sesay
The competence of an expert witness from the Scientific Support Unit of the Sierra Leone Police has been questioned by the defence team representing, Alfred Paolo Conteh who is tried for treason.
Joseph Abu bakarr Sanu who claims to be a ballistics expert since 2008 testified before Justice Momoh Jah Stevens of the High Court of Sierra Leone.
The witness’s testimony hinges on two Glock-17 pistols the prosecution alleged to have been in the possession of Alfred Paolo Conteh to assassinate President Julius Maada Bio while on his way to attend a meeting with the President. But, the defence is urging the court to expunge the testimony from the court records saying the witness is not competent and that his testimony should not be relied upon.
The defence’s call to delete the evidence of the ballistics expert is based on the grounds that the court has not established the competence of the witness prior to his testimony.
One of the defence counsels, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara argued that the usual procedure for the testimony of an expert witness to be admitted is that the court must establish his competence.
“The defence team is not satisfied that the witness is competent to testify in such a matter. The court has not made a determination on the competence of the witness and until that is done, the entire evidence is of no value,” Counsel Kamara submitted.
The defence counsel urged the court to allow the prosecution to go home and did their homework properly before coming to court.
Responding to defence counsel’s submission, State counsel, Adrian Fisher told the court that the defence failed to make objection when the witness was testifying.
Counsel Fisher also submitted the defence was served with copies of the ballistics report adding that it is admissible for the defence to furnish the court with such information.
“This is the only witness that has testified in court as to his credentials. Instead of the defence cross-examining the witness he is asking the court to expunge the testimony of the witness,” Counsel Fisher submitted.
He said the witness has testified clearly as to what he did and it is very difficult for the evidence to be expunged.
In his counter-argument, Counsel Kamara relied on a popular authority in the world of criminal Law known as Archibald Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice.
He invoked paragraphs 1285 page 475 which, he said, clearly showed how the court should approach expert evidence and that the witness would testify only after the approval of the Judge.
The defence counsel further submitted that if the witness is an expert, the prosecution must serve the defense the necessary material.
In his ruling, Justice Momoh Jah Stevens said the witness should be cross-examined by the defence on his credentials in the absence of the jurors.
The testimony of the ballistics expert, Abu Bakarr Sanu indicated that He recalled 3rd March this year as he was on duty when Detective Inspector Aminata Kamara submitted two Glock-17 and 21 pistols with registration numbers SL/CID-20/BFFF-234 and SL/CID-17/MUX841-107.B respectively for examination and report.
Witness further testified that the two pistols Glock-17 and 21 were from Austria and the United States respectively.
Glock-21 pistol, witness said, was manufactured in the USA by John Dowin who dealt with arms and ammunition especially the Automatic Colt pistol.
Witness was cross-examined by Counsel Africanus Sesay on his testimony before the court.
In his response to the cross-examination, witness told the court that he held a certificate in fire arms license and he outlined series of courses he underwent before he acquired his certificates.
Another Defence Counsel Roland Wright made an application that the certificates of the witness be cross-checked properly by the court. But, state counsel, Adrian Fisher objected to defence counsel’s submissions that the certificates were awarded to the witness by a credible institution.
Justice Stevens also ruled that Glock-17 and 21 pistols were not fired at anybody noting that the court was looking at the examination of the two pistols for which the witness was docked to explain to the court.
In a related development, Counsel Kamara informed the court about the preferential treatment given to other prisoners at the exclusion his clients, Alfred Paolo Conteh and two others.
He told the court that Paolo Conteh and the two accused persons had not been enjoying the privileges offered to other prisoners.
Mr Kamara told the court that the accused persons were locked up in their cell for 25 hours without allowing them to go outside doing exercises like other prisoners.
Counsel Kamara equally did not lose sight of the opportunity given to the prosecution which the defence is deprived of.
The defence counsel informed the court that their phones were taken from them when entering the court.
“If our phones are taken away from them during proceedings, then the phone of the Attorney General must also been taken away from her,” he submitted.
Another defence counsel, Dr Abdulai O. Conteh supported Counsel Kamara’s submissions.
Dr Conteh submitted that a court order should be adhered to by both sides of the case.
“What is special about the Attorney General’s position that she should get access to her phone during proceedings,” he submitted.
In his response to counsels’ submissions, Justice Momoh Stevens said it was a court decision that no phone was required during the proceedings.
However, Justice Stevens ordered that each side should have one phone to enable them cite the relevant sections of law.
He also ordered that the accused persons, Alfred Paolo Conteh and the two others should be given the same privileges given to other prisoners.
Justice Stevens reminded the counsels in the two sides that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Presumption of innocence, in law, is a cardinal judicial principle that is accompanied by many privileges to which the accused persons are entitled.
Justice Stevens however ordered the defence to speak with the Attorney general on the granting of privileges that due the accused persons.
Another important issue that came up during the day’s proceedings was the Loqus in Quo (visit of crime scene) at State House whose application was made by the defence.
The Director of Public Prosecution Ismond N’gakui told the court they were yet to get clearance from State House on the scene of crime visit.
But, Counsel Kamara insisted that the crime scene must be visited before the prosecution closed their case.
“It will be very difficult for them if they do not visit the scene of crime,” he argued.
In his response, Justice Stevens advised the defence to exercise patience as this is the first time the court is moving to the number one office in the country.
The accused persons were arraigned on sixteen counts of treason contrary to section 39(1) of the Treason and state offences Act of 1963 as amended and other offences including possession of small arms without license, abetting the commission of an offence and other related charges.
The particulars of offence indicates that the accused, on Thursday 19th March 2020 at State House, Tower Hill in Freetown, endeavoured to carry out, by force, the assassination of president Julius Maada Bio, by evading the security system at State House while attending a meeting at State House.
The charge sheet continued that the first accused, Paolo Conteh on a date unknown between 26th February and 3rd March 2020 in Freetown, endeavoured to procure unlawful means an alteration of the procedures for the lawful acquisition of fire arms, as provided by law in respect of a Glock-17 pistol with serial number BEFE 234.
The charge sheet also states that the first accused on 5th October 2018 in Freetown, had in his possession a small arm, to wit a pistol gun, with serial number MUX 841001073, without valid license.
The second accused, Sahr Anthony Sinnah, on a date unknown did an act involving the commission of an offence of treason.
The charge sheet ended that the second and third accused persons, Sahr Anthony Sinnah and Prince George Hughes, on a date unknown between 26th February and 3rd March 2020 in Freetown, procured the commission of an offence in contravention of regulation 31 of the Arms and Ammunition Regulation Act of 2014.