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Freetown – The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law – Sierra Leone (CARL-SL) today urged the Sierra Leone Judiciary to respect the rights of the seven ex-servicemen currently facing trial and ensure that each of them benefits from the services of defence counsel. The seven men, who were arraigned in a Freetown Magistrate Court on August 6, face various charges relating to riotous conduct and assault on Sierra Leone’s Minister of Defence.
CARL-SL wishes to remind the Sierra Leone Judiciary, particularly the Master and Registrar, that the right to fair trial is protected by a number of concrete rights such as the right to be tried without undue delay, the right to prepare a defence, the right to defend oneself in person or through counsel, and the right to call and examine witnesses. In light of the circumstances leading to these proceedings, and the high profile of the alleged victim, it is particularly important that the accused fully benefit from the services of defence counsel in order for there to be balanced proceedings inclusive of all fair trial guarantees. The accused persons’ right to prepare a defense could have been enhanced by granting them immediate access to defense counsel, but it is regrettable that they had to be arraigned without the services of lawyers, at least three days after they had been arrested. Equally important is that the case should either be dispensed with or proceed without undue delay so that the accused are not held in detention indefinitely without being tried.
CARL-SL has also read a Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) Report which referenced ‘discharge cards’ issued by the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces to the accused persons relating to their mental health. CARL-SL cannot authenticate the veracity of the medical examination reports which were used by the military to release the accused from the army, but defense counsel could raise a wide range of issues at such trials, including the competence of the accused to stand trial and make his defence.
CARL-SL wishes to reiterate its condemnation of violence in all forms, and urges members of the public to use peaceful and formal channels to seek redress. The alleged attack on the Defence Minister was unfortunate and unnecessary, however, the fair trial rights of those alleged to be responsible for those attacks must be fully respected.
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