It’s our civic right to know the laws of Sierra Leone. Please pardon my excessive verbosity and/or the repetition of words/sentences as I needed to pass on this information with clarity. For the past few days, I have seen people referring to the Deputy Minister of Justice as the “Deputy Attorney General”. Some are also referring to the Attorney General as the head of the Judiciary.
In Sierra Leone, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is a fused function. In other countries, there is a Minister of Justice and also an Attorney General. The difference between the two is that, in some countries, the Attorney General is the Principal Legal Adviser to the President and his Government whilst the Minister of Justice is responsible for the administration of any justice that falls within the jurisdiction. Simply put, the Attorney General represents the Government or the State on any legal issues/matters whilst the Minister of Justice is responsible to make sure that laws are meted and that where there is an unlawful situation of which the President including his cabinet ministers or other public officials are involved, he (Minister of Justice) is required by law to prosecute them on behalf of the State.
Like I said earlier, in Sierra Leone, both positions are headed by one and the same person. The moment you become the Attorney General then u are also by law to act as the Minister of Justice. That is, you are obliged by law to advise the Government and also obliged by law to prosecute them. Well, don’t ask me if the Minister of Justice will ever prosecute the President in Sierra Leone on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone. I am not in the position to answer that.
To tell you how important the Attorney General and Minister of Justice office is, the office is distinct and different from all other Ministries in the Government. Although the Attorney General is also the Minister of Justice and shall have a seat in the cabinet, however, it’s the ONLY “ministerial position” that does not need parliamentary approval before assuming functions of his/her office. The AG& MoJ immediately assume office after taking and subscribing to the oath as set in the (Third Schedule) to the 1991 constitution.
s64 of the 1991 constitution makes provision for the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and he/she is regarded as the Principal Legal Adviser to the President and his Government. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice must have practiced law for twenty years (20yrs) which is also the same for one becoming a Chief Justice and all other Justices of the Supreme Court (the highest court in Sierra Leone) as stated in s64(2) of the 1991 constitution. The AG is regarded as the most learned person (in-law) in the Executive Arm of Government. The Attorney General is not head of the Judiciary as the AG is part of the Executive Arm of Government and not the Judiciary Arm of Government. The Chief Justice is the head of the Judiciary as stated in s120(1) of the 1991 constitution.
Secondly, what we must always understand is that the Attorney General by law is not regarded as a Minister like other Ministers in the Government. This is because the constitution make provision for Ministers and Deputy Ministers to be appointed according to s56 of the 1991 constitution. In Sierra Leone, all Ministerial /Deputy Ministerial appointments are subjected to the approval of parliament (without the approval of parliament, you’ll not become a Minister/Deputy Minister).
Also, in Sierra Leone, a person who has contested and lost as a candidate in a general election is not qualified to be appointed a Minister or a Deputy Minister in that particular electioneering circle as stated in s56(2) of the 1991 constitution. One may ask what about Mr. Charles Margai who contested the 2018 election but was appointed by President Bio as a Minister of Justice… Well the reason is very simple, Charles Margai was not appointed after the 2018 election as a Minister according to s56 of the 1991 constitution but he was appointed as an Attorney General according to s64 of the constitution. President Bio would not have appointed Charles as Minister of Internal Affairs, Trade, Finance, or any other Ministry.
Also, the ‘Principal Legal Assistant’ to the Attorney General is the Solicitor General as stated in s65(4) of the 1991 constitution and to be appointed as Solicitor General, you must have practiced law for fifteen years (15yrs) as stated in s65(3) of the 1991 constitution. Even though there are other notable positions in the Ministry of Justice which includes the Deputy Minister of Justice, DPP etc but the Principal Legal Adviser to the Attorney General is the Solicitor General and he’s regarded as second in command (as per seniority in the Ministry of Justice) and not the Deputy Minister of Justice. Please note that there is no Deputy Attorney General. There is only one Attorney General and nobody deputizes him/her. The Deputy Minister of Justice is only deputizing the Minister of Justice and not in his role as the Attorney General (as I said, the AG also acts as the MoJ as it is a dual function when appointed but the Deputy Minister is only acting on one function) The Deputy Minister of Justice is appointed in accordance with s56 of the 1991 constitution (and not s64 of the constitution) and his appointment is subjected to the approval of parliament. Anybody can be appointed as the Deputy Minister of Justice (whether you are a lawyer or not) as long as you are qualified to become a Minister as stated in s56 of the constitution BUT not everybody can be appointed as an Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
Save for the Attorney General and Solicitor General, all appointments made by the president must go through parliament. In other words, any and every other person(s) who are appointed by the President (for eg. Chief Justice, Judges, Head of the Police, Commissioners, etc) MUST go through parliament for approval except the Attorney General and the Solicitor General. The Attorney General does not need parliamentary approval before assuming the functions of his/her office AND also the Solicitor General does not need parliamentary approval before assuming the functions of his office. All other appointments made by the President in Sierra Leone need the blessings of parliament (approval by parliament) before assuming the functions of their office except the ATTORNEY GENERAL and the SOLICITOR GENERAL. That tells the Attorney General and the Solicitor General’s office are very powerful positions in Sierra Leone as they do not need the blessings of parliament before they take over the mantle of leadership in their respective positions.
In Sierra Leone, all criminal matters or proceedings are instituted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) whose office is created according to s66 of the 1991 constitution and he/she must have practiced law for TEN (10) years. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) with advice from the Attorney General & Minister of Justice can institute, undertake, takeover, continue or discontinue all (or any) criminal matters/proceedings against any person before any courts in respect of any offenses against the laws of Sierra Leone as stated in s66(4) of the 1991 constitution.
Please note also that the Attorney General’s office is not regarded by law as a PUBLIC OFFICE (he’s not a public officer) and therefore the Attorney General can contest any general election without resigning his office 12 months prior to the election. However, the Solicitor General’s office including the DPP is a public office- see s171(4) of the 1991 constitution for the list of people that are not regarded as a public officer/servant.
I hope this helps a lot.
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