Sierra Leone’s Chief Justice, Desmond Babatunde Edwards, has assured President Julius Maada Bio that the Judiciary under his watch will fully apply the Abolition of Death Penalty Act of 2021.
“We in the Judiciary note the change and are ready to apply the new law, the Abolition of the Death Penalty Act, 2021 without let or hindrance where applicable,” Justice Edwards assured.
Edwards was speaking when President Bio assented to a bill that brings to an end the death penalty. According to him, the day marked an important date in the annals of the country’s history in that Sierra Leone will be joining over 144 countries that have abolished the Law and Practice of Death Penalty. He said that the death penalty found its way into Sierra Leone’s laws courtesy of Certain Statutes viz Murder under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, Robbery with Aggravation under Section 23 of the Larceny Act, 1916, Mutiny under the Sierra Leone Military Forces Act, 1961 and the Law of Treason under the Treason and State Offences Act, 1963. The Chief Justice said the death penalty was the way of life to addressing crimes like treason, murder and robbery.
He said: “Excuse me if it seems I am talking a lot about the death penalty – I am paying tribute to the death penalty for after today, it would be laid to rest and would be heard of no more.”
He noted that countries such as Greece, UK and Italy have all abandoned the death penalty, pointing out that all European countries have abolished the death penalty, except for Belarus and Russia for which there has been a moratorium since 1996.
Edwards noted that abolishing the death penalty meant, “Judges would no longer be required to pronounce that gruesome sentence by first undressing with the removing of their wigs in place of a sinister black draper or cloth as head-covering.”
On his part before the symbolic signing, President Bio said: “When I first proposed abolishing the death penalty in all totality for all capital crimes, there was widespread scepticism, cynicism, and outright hostility. Some cautioned that it was unwise to let go of the ultimate cudgel that had kept political opponents in line. Others wondered whether that was really, what I wanted to do. Those who did not wish to be seen as hard dissenters made counter proposals that we could keep the death penalty for some crimes.”
He recalled that his position has always been a ‘hard and firm No’ to the death penalty in all its forms and for all crimes.
He went on to note that the state has absolutely no obligation to undertake judicial killings of its citizens to instil law and order or for political gain. “The all-too-familiar phrase of hanging persons by the neck until they die or tying persons at a stake and gunning them down is cruel, inhumane, and degrading,” he said.
Bio told members of the diplomatic and consular corps that Sierra Leone was a civilised nation that would never again execute any person.
As President, he reiterated, “I have made a solemn commitment to good governance, justice, and to upholding, promoting, and protecting the lives and rights of every citizen. Our governance and justice sector reforms have opened up more democratic spaces, unfettered free speech, and expanded access to justice for hitherto unserved and under-served populations.”
“We will no longer execute fellow citizens for political retribution, for deterrence of crimes, or crimes,” President Bio said, adding that, “the state must now set the example by demonstrating that it places the highest value on all human life. The abolition of the death penalty will mark an important and symbolic departure from the past to the future.”
The Deputy Minister of Justice, Umaru Napoleon Koroma Esq., recalled that some twenty-five years ago as a pupil of the Albert Academy, he participated in a debate in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. At Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, he joined Amnesty International to canvass for the abolition of the death penalty, but it never happened.
He said: “Twenty-five years ago down the line, God sent us an individual with a mission to fulfil dreams. A few months ago, he fulfilled the over forty years dream of those who were fighting for the seditious libel law to be expunged from our law books. Today again, he is here to fulfil the dream of us who have been fighting for the abolition of the death penalty.”