The changing face of the legal profession in Sierra Leone

2 March 2015 at 10:26 | 16459 views

By Tony Bee, Sydney, Australia.

The legal profession in Sierra Leone used to be the finest and perhaps the most admirable when graduates from the UK, Ireland and other Commonwealth countries dominated it.

But today, with the advent of home grown graduates from Fourah Bay College (FBC) there have been signs of bickering, belligerence, factionalization, intrigues and even tribalism rearing their ugly heads which has vilified this once noble profession.

Lawyers in the past were like the gods of the society, admired, adored, looked upon as role models and for guidance, and were not only representatives of litigants, but could serve as peace makers among them to prevent unnecessary litigations or curb frivolous and vexatious cases into courts.

When we were kids there were names in the legal profession we use to hear from the lips of our parents or even adopt as nick names for ourselves. These notably include Eke Halloway, Joko Smart, Claude Campbell, Osho Williams, Sulaiman Tejan- Jalloh aka STJ, Foday Daboh, Manley Spaine Edward Akar, Eddie Turay , Dr. Renner Thomas, Dr. Timbo, Dr. Awoonor Renner, TS Johnson, Terence Terry, Berthan Macaulay jr, Hannah Ahmed (who was described by the male practitioners as a man because men almost never defeat her in legal fight and there were other formidable legal female fighters like Attiba Davies and Isha Dyfan.

However, those were days that also had their own disadvantages. If an ambitious young person’s parents did not have the connection to have a scholarship or the financial wherewithal to send him/her for legal studies abroad, he/she would never become a lawyer.

So, it was only the well- to-do and the rich that could afford to have their children become lawyers. When you thought of lawyers at the time, you could count them on your fingertips. There were districts or chiefdoms that never dreamt of having people they could boast of as lawyers hailing from such communities.The socio-political organization and economic disparity did not create an equitable access to the profession.

The liberalists and altruists in the legal profession then thought that there was a need to open a window of opportunity for every chiefdom or district to boast of having a lawyer. This brought about the establishment of a law faculty at Fourah Bay College where some lawyers volunteered to lecture for free.

It was a great opportunity for Sierra Leoneans, especially those from the stone- broking class though some of the conservatives were against it. Today, almost every chiefdom could boast of having a lawyer hailing from it, though there are still a few that still cannot boast of having one.It was this opportunity at FBC that enabled average income earners to send their children to read law.

But as time went by, the FBC graduates came down to Law School and finally to the courts with their college culture ( divisiveness, intrigues, tribalism and use of political connections to undo others).

This is something that was not common among the old set. According to my research, the situation is now developing into something that would nurture acrimony among legal practitioners and if not checked by the authorities it would reach a point when the solidarity that had existed between lawyers would only be something manifested through factionalization in the form of cult clubs at FBC which does not augur well for the profession.

To prove me right or wrong, have a close observation of the profession; you would discover that the amicable relationship that characterized it yesterday is no longer there. Instead you would hear lawyers saying that there are too many lawyers although that was not what they were told when they manifested their ambition to become lawyers. Because of this bizarre perception, the next thing you would hear is that they support certain cliques to knock down incoming lawyers.

Some of them would support certain clandestine activities without knowing why or even being aware that they were destroying other innocent, suffering people or even aware of the agenda to destroy them.

According to my investigation, all they know is that a certain cult or club at FBC is behind the whole issue and because they are members, they should therefore "goatishly" support everything behind the mischievous plan.This is a dangerous phenomenon. You would never hear of this strange attitude or behaviour from the oldies that studied abroad.

In this 21st century, many countries, especially in the Third World, have resorted to progressivism and Sierra Leone should be at the forefront of such a contemporary trend. This is the time when lawyers should come together to think of opening opportunities for incoming ones and not to become belligerent towards them. It does no good for the image of the country. We are boasting of a population of six million and up to date there are not up to one thousand lawyers in the country.

Every day, cases are adjourned for umpteenth times. This calls for innovative ideas for the progress of the profession so as to meet with the challenges of the contemporary times. This does not mean making plans to undo others and the ironical claim of maintaining standards because in Sierra Leone, when people who wield authority want to destroy others they claim to maintain standards.

In some countries, especially in Australia where I live and work, lawyers come together and hold seminars and discuss issues academically. They plan the way forward through such seminars. They take a hard look at the profession and see how they can practically make improvements and open windows of opportunity for new and old members. Why not in Sierra Leone?

In Sierra Leone according to my findings, FBC graduates use their bitter experiences in academia to become belligerent to others. If everyone who had a bitter experience or misfortune decides to become belligerent to others, then we are moving to a Hobbesian society in which life will be short, brutish, poor, nasty and stinky.

Solidarity and altruism should be hallmark of the legal profession. Why are you not coming together as brothers and sisters to improve the standard of the noble profession by organising frequent information sessions, workshops and seminars? Please Sierra Leoneans, put aside your bitterness and hatred against your brother and sister for the benefit of the nation.

In the past, we used to see lawyers would holler in court but would be seen hugging each other out of court later, as it is happening in a civilized country like Australia. It was a manifestation of not only intellectuality but organic solidarity amongst them.

But today in Sierra Leone, when there is a plot against successful ones by failures, just because of their belligerent attitude and behaviour, some take sides with the failures according to my investigation.

Even when they know that there may not be legal grounds to undo them they resort to cultic solidarity to put pressure in some quarters. What they fail to realize is that the legal profession is part of the real world, the world of survival where it is money and benefits that arouse the interest of most people which is different from the world of FBC.

The man you try to undo today may be the man you need for a particular service or favour tomorrow.That is why the FBC graduates should know the difference between realism and ideationalism. The pathetic thing about the legal profession now in Sierra Leone according to my research, is that the old ones are getting tired and are now pulling out leaving everything in the hands of the young ones who unfortunately are nurturing ideas not in consonance with realism. You hardly see most of the old ones in court again.

The legal profession should come together and plan realistically for now and in the future as I said before. They should not give way to tribalism and regional cult clubs. If they do, they will destroy the good ideals and values of their noble profession that the old ones have been upholding for the past years.

The other idea that must be discarded is the Krio- Kontri dichotomy in educational institutions and in the judiciary. Over the years Krios have made tremendous strides towards integration into the mainstreams society. They have been blamed for policies in educational intuitions that adversely affects the Kontris but from what we have heard things have changed and that change should be seen in the legal profession.

Our Krio brothers know that the bird should perch and the kite should perch too, if one says no to the other his wings will break.