CARL, Advocaid Move to Decriminalise Minor Offences

By Janet Sesay

Two of the leading Sierra Leone’s civil society organisations, Center for Accountability and Rule of Law and Advocaid Sierra Leone move to engage relevant authorities to decriminalise minor or petty offences in Sierra Leone.

The two organisations champion the cause for justice, rule of law and human rights issues in the country with a particular focus on promoting and protecting the rights of the less privileged.

Common traffic offences, debts and loitering among others are those targeted for decriminalisation.

These offences are not clearly written and are disproportionate to the level of offence committed and in, most cases, wrongly applied by law enforcers.

The move by the two agencies is aimed at decriminalising poverty in the country through advocacy for policy reform on petty offences.

The underlying argument is that the situation leads to indiscriminate arrest and contributes to human violence in society.

If the two organisations succeed in their campaign, minor offences are no longer matters for the police, but will be referred to suitable agencies that can handle them.

Project Coordinator for CARL, Fabundeh Ansumana says African Commission on Human and People’s Rights which prescribes that punishment for minor offences  should be warning, community service, and short-term imprisonment for failure to pay fines cause over-crowding at correctional centers and contributes to poverty and misguided use of state resources.

“It is against this back drop that CARL had engaged with Sierra Leone Roads Authority, Sierra Leone Police, Human Rights Commission, and Motor Bike Riders Union to resolve issues surrounding motor bikes in police custody,” CARL Project Coordinator said.

Mr Fabundeh made reference to police action of putting on sale without a court order of motor cycles arrested for minor offences.

In his address, Principal Legal Officer, Law Reform Commission, Idrissa Kargbo said the law had to be changed, and this must be in compliance with international standards.

“Seizure of motor cycles by police officers is a rule of law issue,” Mr Kargbo said.

The Commission’s legal officer also attributed most of the accidents on the highways to police chases noting that passengers had sustained injuries and sometimes deaths.

“The situation is too bad for the country,” he lamented.

The Mr Kargbo also noted that the right to own property is a fundamental right which no one should interfere with.

“Something needs to be done as most senior officers are unaware of what is happening,” he said.

Since the Sierra Leone Police is a legal entity, it has the right to sue and be sued in its name.

In this direction, Mr Kargbo further told participants that SLP could be sued if a motor cycle is unjustifiably impounded by a police officer.

The Constitution of Sierra Leone Act No.6 of 1991 and the Police Act of 1964 establish the Inspector-General as head of the police force, and can be vicariously sued for the action of a subordinate.

Mr kargbo also accused traffic officers of illegally depriving   drivers of their licences making them vulnerable to multiple waves of arrests by other police officers while moving within the city.

Failing to produce licence on demand by a police officer in uniform is the offence traffic officers charge drivers after their licences have been taken away by other police officers.

In his contribution, Public Relations Officer, Bike Riders Association (BRA), Mohamed Kamara said the organisation renders an important service to the people of this country.

Kamara accused the police of stalling the ‘Okada’ industry noting that SLP have over 8,000 motor cycles in their custody which, he said, were seized from commercial motorists.

“Those eight thousand riders whose bikes have been seized by the police have eight thousand families to take care of,” he lamented.

Kamara also spoke about the patience commercial motorists undergo in the process of getting the right documents for their motor cycles.

“We purchase bikes at the price of Le7, 000,000 (seven million Leones), and we go through customs and undergo other necessary process to acquire license and do a lot of service when we get to the streets,” he said.

The BRA PRO called on the police not to see them as thieves, but people who contribute to national development through payment of taxes and rendering of valuable services to the people.

“Bike riders are peaceful, law-abiding and harmless to society.  They are also helpful to their families,” he said.

The SLP, kamara says, is created by law to protect lives and properties, but says, the opposite occurs as police arrest and sell their motor cycles with no legal basis.

Kamara challenged the police to produce any court order which tells them to auction their motor cycles.

“We bought our motor cycles at Le 7,000,000 (seven million Leones) and the police sold them at Le 500,000 (five hundred thousand Leones). It is a premeditated act by the police as they are the arresting officers, auctioneers and buyers.” the BRA Spokesman alleged.

He accused the police to have sent thousands of youths out of jobs owing to the seizure spree of motor cycles.

Police officers, Kamara says, should not take the law into their own hands as they too are equally subject to the law.

Responding to the allegation, Senior Investigating Officer and Road Safety, Daniel Alfred Luseni Bockarie said the order to auction the motor cycles came from the court.

Mr Bockarie admitted that they bought the motor cycles, and entreated BRA to take up the matter with the Inspector-General of Police noting that they work under instructions.

“The court is the auctioneer of the motor cycles, and the police are the buyers. We have right to buy them,” he claimed.

He also responded that they had 7,000 motor cycles in their custody and not 8,000 as alleged by the BRA spokesman.

Touching on the actions of traffic wardens of the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority, Kamara accused them of extortion as they usually fine commercial motorists a Le400, 000 for petty offences instead of the Le200, 000 which is the minimum.

As part of her contribution, Head of a civil society organisation, Education, Empowerment and Access to justice for Women and Girls, Mrs. Lydia Winyi Kembabazi said there should be some recommendations for a policy on how to manage Petty offences.

“We need a collection of ideas to solve this problem. Stakeholders have to look at the person involved, ensure that the laws we have in Sierra Leone are appropriate nationally and internationally since transport is very key,” she suggested.

The Sierra Leone Correctional Service was represented by Chief Officer, Sierra Leone Correctional Centre, Hamid Majid Tejan.

He told participants that arrests and detention of commercial motorists is not a new phenomenon in Sierra Leone.

“Bike riders most times are detained with hard core criminals at the correctional facilities,” he admitted.

Commercial motorists from the provinces, Mr Tejan said, are the most vulnerable since their understanding about road traffic rules is insufficient.

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