Healthy Democracy Depends On Independent Judiciary

Democracy is the world’s most popular form of government which has been adopted by almost all modern states. By conceptualisation, a democratic government is a product of the collective actions of people in a particular country.

The concept over the years became known as the rule by the majority. The definition is holding sway in modern societies as it insinuates that only the interest and comfort of the majority should be sought.

It is premised on the notion that the majority have a say but the majority have the way. Consider a scenario in which three men are in a car moving from one point to another. While on the move, the two men smoke cigarettes in the vehicle, and the other who does not smoke becomes discomforted by the smoke puffed by the two smokers.

In this case, those who smoke are in the majority and the one who does not smoke is in the minority. If the one who does not smoke says I am discomforted by the smoke, the two smokers will not hesitate to say we are in the majority and you are in the minority.

In this situation, the lone non-smoker is disadvantaged if only the interest of the majority is protected at all times in such a situation. Owing to the weaknesses associated with the definition, it was replaced with another suitable one which says democracy is about the right of each responsible individual to have an equal voice in matters that affect that their welfare.

If we go by this definition, the interest of the lone non-smoker should be sought and the two smokers should stop smoking for the sake recognising and promoting minority interest.

However, a broader conceptualisation of democracy was advanced by one of the greatest United States Presidents, Abraham Lincoln.

He defines democracy in simple and plain terms as government of the people, by the people and for the people. This conceptualisation deserves a particular commentary and analysis for proper elucidation of the concept. The first limb of the definition, government of the people means that the people own the government because it comes from them.

The second limb: ‘government by the people’ means that a body of persons who constitute the government of any state are voted into such positions by the electorate.

It means that political sovereignty of any state belongs to the people. The notion of sovereignty of the people is echoed in Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution which says sovereignty belongs to the people of Sierra Leone from whom government, through this constitution, derives its powers, authority legitimacy.

It is as a result of the second limb that government governs the state for a fixed term and later go back to the electorate to seek fresh mandate. In the Unites States, government’s mandate expires every four years. In Sierra Leone and most African states, the mandate of government fades away after every five years.

Suffice it to say the people who vote in government to rule on their behalf can also vote it out if it fails to rule in their interest.

The third limb: ‘government for the people’ is   arguably the most difficult part of the conceptualisation.

The limb of the definition means that a government which has been voted in power must always act for the interest of the people.

Whatever policies, actions and programmes pursued by government, must reflect the interest of the people in a particular state.

In this case, as long as a political party is in governance, it must treat all classes and manner of people equally in terms of access to essential services like water, electricity, health, education, infrastructure and most importantly security services.

Government for the time being should not discriminate any category of people in the provision of social services.

In most welfare states, the third limb is important so much that it determines whether a particular government would go back to power or not.

In Sierra Leone, the provision of welfare needs is well entrenched in Chapter two of the 1991 Constitution under the headline: ‘Fundamental Objectives of State Policy’ although not justiciable.

Most times, democratic states are said to be undemocratic owing to the manner in which government conducts themselves in power especially weakness to provide for the welfare needs of the people.

It is incontrovertible that certain criteria must exist for better consolidation of democracy in any state, but the most overriding is an independent Judiciary.

The Judiciary, by virtue of its important role it plays in the interpretation of laws, is seen as a critical organ of government.

Theoretical and philosophical expositions have always favoured the notion that the judiciary must be independent of the other two arms of government.

Again, various classes of people in most states have call for an independent judiciary so that it can checkmate the excesses of the two organs of government and uphold the rule of law.

The judiciary must hold the scale of justice with fairness even where it involves the interest of government.

In Sierra Leone, judicial independence has always been in doubt considering the manner in which law courts have handled matters where government interest is involved.

The country witnessed a judicial process in which   10 seats were stripped off the main opposition, All People’s Congress.

As a result of the verdict, the runners-up of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party were sworn in by the Clerk of Parliament, Paran Tarawallie without conducting a re-run.

The verdicts nearly wrecked the security and stability of the state as opposition members were not happy with the verdict.

The main opposition party headquarters was placed under siege by trigger-happy police officers who fired teargas canisters and bullets at the building.

Similarly, a verdict handed down by the country’s Supreme Court upholding the removal from office, of former Vice President, Sam Sumana, by former President Ernest Bai Koroma also portrayed the judiciary as a tool for the executive arm.

The erroneous nature of the verdict was laid bare when the ECOWAS Court overturned it and ordered the compensation of the sacked Vice President.

Sierra Leone judiciary has failed to adopt the United States model which symbolise an independent and incorruptible judiciary.

In 2003, the Supreme Court in the United States has once ruled against the decision of former President George Bush to use robots in the military aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Supreme Court based its ruling on the notion that the decision to kill must be entrusted in the hands of reasonable and rational being.

Since robots are not reasonable, the Supreme Court ordered that they must not be used to prosecute wars, and government complied.

In the same vein, government came up with a decision to monitor all mobile phone communications in the Unites States in the name of combating home grown and international terrorism.

The Supreme Court also ruled that such monitoring mechanism constitutes a blatant abuse of the right to privacy of American citizens.

The government similarly obeyed the ruling and sought other methods of fighting terrorism.

The rulings handed down by the United States highest court, and obedience shown by government indicates the working of a healthy democracy that significantly contributes to peace and stability.

Until Sierra Leone adopts the US model, the people of Sierra Leone will always doubt the judiciary which will not bode well for the country’s democracy.

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