Omrie Golley and the Treason Trial: The Untold Story
It could be recalled that Omrie Golley, the former Revolutionary United Front (RUF) Spokesman was arrested on the 12th January, 2006. The allegations were that he and two others, Mohamed Bah and David Kai Tombie were planning to overthrow the Government of Sierra Leone and to assassinate the Vice President.
On the 23rd January 2006, Golley and the two others were charged to the Magistrate Court No. 1 of Principal Magistrate Sam Margai. This happened on the 11th day after his arrest and detention. Golley and two others have been charged with treason, a capital offence that bears the death penalty. The case was initially heard in the Magistrate Court on Preliminary Investigations. Upon adducing various evidence, the Magistrate ruled that the accused persons had a case to answer, which saw the remittal of the matter to the High Court No. 1 before Justice Samuel Ademusu.
The matter upon reaching the High court, various protractions emerged immediately. In fact, even at the Magistrate Court, there was an occasion when the case was called but the accused persons had not been brought from the prison. The Court waited for about two hours before the accused persons were brought which by then, the lead counsel for the Defence, Mr. Charles F. Margai had left the Court.
Technical hitches heightened at the High Court. At this stage, Charles Margai objected to the eligibility of the presiding Judge, Justice Samuel Ademusu. Mr. Margai’s objection was premised on the fact that the Judge had passed the retirement age and was on contract with the President which does not give him the security of tenure of office. This in Mr. Margai’s opinion places the Judge on a pliable seat wherein he could not be free from a jaundiced eye especially for a treason trial.
Insisting on the claim that Justice Ademusu is incredible to sit on the matter, Mr. Margai filed a motion on the 24th February 2006 to the Supreme Court (Ex parte Motion) for clarification of the constitutionality and eligibility of Justice Ademusu to sit on the substantive matter. In light of Mr. Margai’s application, the Supreme Court sat on the 7th March, 2006. However, on the 6th March 2006, a day before the Supreme Court met, Mr. Margai filed another motion.
Therefore, when the Supreme Court met on the 7th March 2006, primarily to hear arguments on the eligibility or ineligibility of Justice Ademusu presiding over the Omrie Golley treason trial, Mr. Margai immediately made an application to the Bench that in view of the motion he filed on the 6th March 2006, the hearing on the motion he filed on the 24th February 2006 should be deferred pending the hearing and determination of motion dated 6th march 2006. The 6th March 2006 motion filed by Mr. Margai was for the Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Justice Ade-Renner Thomas to recluse himself from the decision to be taken on the 24th February 2006 motion because he (the Chief Justice) had discussed and formed an opinion on the motion outside court.
In the same matter, so many concerns have been raised in relation to the rights of an accused person in criminal trials. On so many occasions, Omrie Golley has complained that he does not have access to his lawyer. Even though the state has provided him a Lawyer, Mr. Osho Williams, he is still insisting that he prefers Charles Margai as his counsel.
At the hearing in the High Court No. 1 on 3rd March 2006, Omrie Golley raised so many objections regarding the way he is been treated in detention to the whole court audience in a bitter and desperate mood. In fact on that very day, he was brought to court together with the other two accused persons half naked. On that day, he did not want to come to court because he was ill and at the same time he did not have faith in the court but was dragged out of his cell by a group of police officers according to Mr. Golley. At the same time, he continued that he is ill and has lost 60% of his body weight but the court has disregarded all of those.
Continuing his exclamation, Mr. Golley said he has a young wife in England with two babies but since his arrest almost two months ago, he has not been given any access to phone calls. He continued that his wife gave Mr. Melron Nicole-Wilson some drugs to help treat his cholesterol but the prison authorities denied him access. In addition, he objected to the act of sending his medical report to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and said he cannot trust that report since he should be the first person to be contacted with his medical report. On the same day, after his medical report was tendered by the AG in court, Mr. Golley objected that his medical report should not be read aloud to the court as it was against his personal dignity but this too was not regarded by the Bench.
The medical report read to the court however confirmed that Mr. Golley was infected with malaria. Up to the 7th March 2006, Mr. Golley complained that the latest test he did confirmed that his pressure level is high and he is having irregular heart beats. He further confirmed that the test result of Dr. Willoughby proves he has traces of typhoid fever and some problems affecting his kidney which is causing the swelling in his face.
Giving the current circumstances surrounding the Omrie Golley treason trials, a couple of complications have become glaring and as a result, the process is not so much of a treason trial as much as the Defence Counsels and the accused have protracted the issue to be a pending bias and non independent trial. The defence and the accused are taking advantage of some lapses in the judiciary and some judicial officials to apparently ‘frustrate’ the whole process.
The SLCMP for example has on many occasions emphasized that the scheme of having Judges on contract is a potent vestige for the perversion of justice. Now the Omrie Golley case is just one in which this much-condemned system is about to cause a deadlock and starting in this fashion, no one can tell what snags this system might cause in the future.
Furthermore, a surprising occurrence that is contributing to the protraction of the Omrie Golley Trial and which Mr. Charles Margai, the lead defence counsel has taken advantage of is the fact that no lesser person than the Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone went ahead and discussed matter pending ruling outside court. This has culminated to another motion for the Chief Justice not to participate in the whole process in order to avert premeditated judgement. In a situation that it stands wherein the Chief Justice is excluded from the Supreme Court decision, is it not a discredit to the judiciary? Let us remember that this is happening when it has been reported over the BBC by Alhassan Fofana that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice who is the Legal Adviser to the Government has also remarked unfortunately though, that any time Omrie Golley refuses coming to court, he would be dragged and brought half naked like it has happened previously.
Looking at the situation at this point, what happens now that a legal question has been raised about the credibility of the judge? Of course, an accused person or counsels have the right to object to a Judge having likelihood of reasonable bias especially when there is a probability of compromising ‘the two principles of natural justice’(Audi alter am par tem) or nemo judex causa sua (you cannot be a judge in your own case). In the case of Jury trials, one can only object to a maximum of six jurors.
With reference to the above, Omrie Golley had the right to question the Judge’s independence since this is a treason trial and the allegations are that he was planning to overthrow the Government of Sierra Leone and assassinate the Vice president. The judge being on contract, his tenure of office is highly contingent on the President’s prerogative and therefore, he might easily subject himself to judicial manipulations from the Government in order to maintain his main source of livelihood.
However, while Mr. Golley as an accused person reserves the right to object to a judge and choose his counsel (as he has succeeded to have Charles Margai represent him), he equally cannot dictate to the court the kind of Judge he wants like he is already demanding for a foreign judge. In the same vein, the second and third accused persons have also pronounced in court that they do not have faith in all the twelve jurors when in actual fact, accused persons have the right to only object to a maximum of six jurors.
Another issue of legal concern is that Mr. Golley was arrested on the 12th of January, 2006 and was charged to court on the 23rd January, 2006. To quote Mr. Golley, he said “I was charged on the 11th hour of the 11th day after my arrest”. Overtly, section 17 (3) a of the Sierra Leone 1991 Constitution states that any person arrested or detained shall be brought before court “within ten days from the date of arrest in cases of capital offences, offences carrying life imprisonment and economic and environmental offences”. Since Omrie Golley was charged with a capital offence, it constitutionally stands that he should have been brought to court within ten days from the date of his arrest; but he was rather brought to court on the 11th day. The delay here is not very significant when compared to other cases but this still amounts to an abuse on the rights of an accused person.
The health issue of Omrie Golley is another worry one must not underestimate because he is still complaining that the court is not treating his health problems seriously. We must remember that initially he started complaining of malaria, to typhoid fever; now it is unusual heart beats and kidney infections. Slobodan Milosevic has just died in detention and his family, including his son has accused the UN War Crimes Tribunal of causing the former president’s death. The prison officials should provide medical facilities for Mr. Golley (as a matter of right) that at least fall within the ambits of the minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners and to also avoid the judicial system been netted into complications in case there is an unforeseen incidence.
The stake here is not Omrie Golley and the two other accused persons. It is basically about the rights of an accused person in criminal trials irrespective of your past or present. The fact is that any eyesores that are prevalent in the judiciary stands to negatively affect any litigant in the Sierra Leone Judiciary. This is why as a court monitoring programme, the SLCMP examines the legal provisions, applications and problems emanating from the courts so that the much hue and cry to have a very proficient judiciary in Sierra Leone will be actualised.