Sierra Leone’s newly appointed Chief Justice (CJ) Abdulai Hamid Charm has testified before Members of Parliament (MPs) on his personal and professional work background in a Committee of Appointment and Public Service hearing held at Committee Room No. 1 Parliament Building Tower Hill Freetown on Monday 11th January 2016.
The Committee chaired by Hon. Ibrahim Bundu (Majority Leader and Leader of Government Business) explained to the Chief Justice designate and other Presidential nominees that the sitting is the first in the new session (and wished them a Happy 2016) and the interview was premised on information provided by Justice Charm and other public opinion tendered to the Committee as documentary evidences.
“Don’t feel intimidated, we are going to put away all partial and prejudices and interview based on your merits, please don’t proffer answers to questions you don’t understand,” Hon. Bundu cautioned and recalled that Hon. Justice Charm has passed through the House several times as an Appeals and Supreme Court Judge.
Spectacularly, Charm was grilled on ordinary and general questions, excerpt of which has been partially published (to avoid premature or contemptuous publication) as he is yet to be approved.
Hon. Leonard Fofanah (Deputy Majority Leader) asked if Hon. Justice Charm appreciates the significance of his appointment.
His respond was that ‘he does appreciate the appointment to the highest legal office in the land.’ He said: “I know it goes with tremendous responsibilities,” and went on to appreciate the fact that he has made history by being the very first locally trained lawyer that has achieved such position. The youngest CJ noted that he appreciated the fact that he is the first locally trained lawyer to rise to such a position.
Hon. Ansu Jai Kaikai (Deputy Minority Leader of Parliament) spent considerable time in probing on the professional track record of the CJ designate.
He asked Justice Charm his opinion as to what he thinks he has done that provoked his landmark appointment.
The CJ designate said that it is his belief that during previous interviews in Parliament and elevation exemplifies his ‘hard work and a bit of luck’ and expressed optimism that if he is approved he will be able to do his work ‘assiduously’ for his colleagues and superiors.
He talked about constitutional stipulation of age 65 for judges which beat his predecessor.
Hon. Ansu highlighted that ‘good luck is when preparation meets opportunity’, according to Barouche but asked for explanation from the hardworking, strict prosecutor; what are his taught on the criminal justice system.
“Hon. Members you’ll agree with me that the criminal justice system needs some overhaul. I believe a bill is before you now for an amendment of the Criminal Procedure Act and we know we have challenges but they are not insurmountable. If I’m approved, I will try with the assistance of my colleagues to do our level best to ensure that we dispense justice accordingly, swiftly with this I believe we will be able to address the situation of crime that’s prevalent,” the CJ said adding that the issue is that our laws are very old some dating as far as 1916 while those we inherited these laws from have moved long since.
He said the legislators must help the law reform office to make certain amendment to procedures to streamline and move fast the criminal justice system.
The CJ designate was described as stern and seldomly smile in his appearance to which one MP said he will be following up on. They praised him and registered hope that he will be a stern judge but noted that four year will be a set timeline for his assessment and a possible recommendation for an extension to judges age limit of 65 and cast no doubt in him delivering for the job should he be approved.
The CJ designate has been dubbed a former politician active within the APC as he had contested for MP ticket in his native Kambia and was cautioned to put politics aside like former politician CJ (Desmond Luke, Collier).
CJ designate Justice Abdulai Charm responded to perception of him being a politician as follows; “Honorable if I go through this scrutiny, approved and sworn in, I will be taken an oath just as I have done sine I took the oath as a judge in the High Court.
I will execute my duty in consonance with the oath taken and nothing else. I believe section 120 (13) tells us that we should do our work without any interference of any authority but subject to the provision of the constitution this I intend to do.”
Another MP (Hon. Binneh APC) asked the CJ designate if he canvassed any MP ahead of the interview to which he responded in the negative. The MP asked the CJ designate what difference will he be taken to a judiciary that is clouded with perception problems of dispensing injustice instead of justice.
Chief Justice designate Abdulai Hamid Charm said: “Honorable sir, I believe that the judiciary has series of problems and one of them is getting the compliment of the bench. People have been complaining about cases, it is not that we delay cases unnecessarily but really the amount of cases judges handle a day or a month are so enormous.
Even though I was an Appeal court judge I still have over 150 High Court matters beside those of the Appeal Court.
If we have your support in term or remuneration and conditions of service in the judiciary definitely we will be able to attract people. It’s only when we attract people to come to the bench we’ll be able to move the judiciary forward otherwise it will be a recurring problem. For example, lately the UNDP helped us to clear provincial backlog cases but cases have started piling again because we don’t have enough manpower,if this House can actually improve the conditions of our service it will go a long way in attracting people to the bench to do the work to improve the work in the judiciary.”
However, some other MPs threw light on concerns about local courts, his international work experience, and vision for judiciary among other things.
Justice Charm worked at NRA as Director and Legal Affairs, and graduated with a law degree from FBC in 1990.
In 1992 he worked as government prosecutor at the Law Officers Department. He also holds a Masters Degree in Human Rights and Allied subject from University of Pretoria and he is a fervent Muslim born in Kaula, Kambia district on 20th July 1963.
His, most prominent case was that of the Garvie case in which his role was being described as epic.
His appointment is expected to be approved by the general assembly of Parliamentarians and no hiccup is expected in light of that.