Before I get to the main subject of this post I would like to offer an appetizer of sorts.
Headbutt at the High Court
Recently an incident occurred involving the President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association. As reported in the Awoko, a local newspaper, SLBA President Crispin Fio Edwards had a disagreement with another lawyer in court. Rather than sort the matter out privately, the two lawyers decided to fight each other in court. As the Awoko described it "like boxers in a ring, the lawyers sent jabs and uppercuts which bemused the judge and the court to see these learned men dragging a noble profession into disrepute." Edwards finished the fight with a headbutt. Now if only the CA Bar would implement similar penalties for failing to pay dues. Moving on...
Several months ago Omrie Golley was released from Pademba Road prison in Sierra Leone. Golley had been held without a proper trial for over 22 months after being arrested on charges of 'destabilizing the state,' i.e. plotting to assassinate then President Kabbah. When the government of Koroma took over, the Attorney General's office issued a nulle prosequi order and released Golley.
Golley is a very controversial figure. He holds both Sierra Leonean and British citizenship and is a member of the bar in both places. During the Sierra Leone conflict he came from London to serve as spokesman for the Revolutionary United Front. An articulate speaker, he conducted interviews on the BBC and worldwide media. He credits himself with contributing to the reconciliation process after the Lome Peace Accord. However, whether he is a concerned citizen or a depraved opportunist is an issue of much disagreement.
Irrespective of his character, his detention in Pademba Road was a hallmark of the politically biased and non functional legal system that characterized the Kabbah presidency. In the 22 months he was in jail, there were few, if any, substantive legal hearings. Like many other cases, trial sessions were adjourned because the Judge or a lawyer was out of town, or because the police had failed to bring Golley to court. There is little doubt that Golley was denied basic due process and human rights.
There is also little doubt that Golley was one of the central figures of the conflict. Many that I have talked to thought that Golley should be on trial either at the Special Court or locally for the crimes that occurred during the conflict. While people thought he had been mistreated by the legal system, they felt that he was responsible for a number of criminal activities and should stay in jail. I happened to hear Golley on BBC radio the week that he was released. I was very impressed with his presentation and could easily imagine him arguing a case in the higher courts of England. However, the substance of his comments were a bit disturbing. He suggested that the ideals for which the RUF fought had been achieved and that the current state of affairs was due to the RUF efforts.
The Golley case presents a challenge to transitional justice. On the one hand, his release signals progression for the legal system. Any decent legal system recognizes that it is not okay to indefinetly detain political enemies without trial. On the other hand, Golley is a bad dude. There is a delicate balance, that is different in each situation, in pursuing transitional justice. Ideally, Golley would have faced charges before a proper tribunal. But the price of a reformed and functioning legal system may be correcting past indiscretions, even where those results are less than ideal.