By Bob Josiah Reffell Esq. 

On the 2nd day of April 2024, a colleague wrote a piece about his illegal detention in Kenema. He claimed to have been assaulted and insulted by two agents of a Minister. Shortly afterwards, a group of police officers acting on the instructions of the said Minister detained and refused him bail. In a shocking twist, the said minister by a Facebook posted that “I will not dignify lies with a response. I advice the legal profession to have time for self-reflection and introspection.”

This incident is the debut of another instance of a political chokehold on the Bar Association. Few weeks ago at a parliamentary hearing, the IGP referred to Lawyers at the Law officer’s department as “small small infant lawyers who can be compromised.” In addition, I was at the CID headquarters to secure bail for two detained students. One of the officers asked me to show him an identification showing that I was a lawyer. Enraged, I sternly warned him not to repeat the frivolity.

In 2021, a couple of OSD officers physically attacked a colleague over failure to wear facemask. In 2023, a photo of group of female colleagues was posted by a Facebook blogger with demeaning comments. The following day, a report was made to the police. The investigators invited the blogger to avail himself for an interview but he took over two days to honour the police invitation; the blogger was accompanied by a gentleman who had a leading political party symbol on his chest. The man introduced himself, and noted, he wants to negotiate but we indicated that we had no intention to negotiate. At that instance, the bodyguards of the said gentleman reigned insults and physically assaulting our team. The Police seized two of our colleague’s mobile phones. Until this day, the matter has not been charged to court.

The Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) is the parent body for all lawyers; its Executive has the onus to protect the welfare of the broad community of Lawyers.  However, over the years, the leadership of the Bar has been graveyard silence on attacks on its members or the reputation of the profession especially by government officials. Pundits have referred to the previous executives as an extension of one of the arms of government due its omissions. 

For instance, the leadership of the SLBA refused to condemn or institute proceedings against the detention of our colleague arrested in Kenema and/or aver their attention to the unfortunate statement of the Honourable Minister via a Facebook post. 

On the 2nd instant, the second Gentleman in his remarks at a Town Hall meeting stated that all accused persons on allegations of Kush would be refused bail regardless of legal representation and would be sentenced. Our second Gentleman has an excusable defence as he might not be aufei with the laws surrounding bail. However, the executive of the Bar should have reiterated the position on bail; been as of right and at the discretion of the bench. The impact of such a statement is far-reaching; it usurps the discretion of the bench and negatively affects the job of barristers. Applying for bail in court becomes an exercise in futility. Most colleagues thrive on bail applications.

In 2023, the leadership of the SLBA failed to protect the dignity of the female colleagues who were victims of a Facebook blog’s cyberbullying. This was a brilliant call to defend the dignity of colleagues. Some of us reached out to the leadership of the Bar but until date, the leadership took no action.

The significance of upholding the sanctity of our profession cannot be overstretched. Our profession is the only profession that occupies one of the tripartite arms of Government. The reasons for the current backslide of our profession are vast. As I have outlined earlier the omissions of the leadership of the SLBA is chief among those causes. 

The influence of politics is another paramount cause for the Bar’s reputational backslide. The Bar would hold its election on the 17th & 18th May instant. The political divide is as clear as daylight among supporters.

Another reason for the backslide is that on one or two occasions colleagues have failed to uphold the principles of integrity and moral uprightness in the pursuit of their practice. For instance, there are instances where colleagues have interfered with client’s monies or properties. 

Another issue why most colleagues encounter problems with the police is based on their approach. Colleagues must always maintain decency in their interaction with the law enforcement officers. This does not presuppose that the police are not at fault in most instances; in fact, some police officers are unsecured at the sight of lawyers. They engage arrogance as recompense for insecurity.

Moving forward, in order to restore the reputation of the profession, the leadership of the Bar and individual members of the legal profession must sit up and uphold the oaths at the nights of call.

Legal practitioners must be the lights in the darkness. We should defend justice and the constitution from the relics of the cotton tree at Siakka Stevens Street to the outskirts of the Yenga Village in Kailahun District. We should wear the breastplate of justice above political affiliation. When a Lawyer opts to pursue Law, the desire is borne out of the need to fight injustice but down the line, those ideologies are negotiated. 

The bar should be a united font devoid of political differences. A legal practitioner should be allowed to serve any political entity (that is a constitutional right) but must be allowed to maintain his good conscience.

There is a dire need for repentance to save the soul of the profession. The biblical question of what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul must be answered by many lawyers especially the junior colleagues.

About the Author: 
Bob Josiah Reffell is an associate lawyer at Marrah & Associates Law Firm.  He holds a Bachelor of Laws Degree (LL.B Hons) from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone and a Degree of Utter Barrister (BL) from the Sierra Leone Law School.  He is a member of the Sierra Leone Bar Association.