Constitutional supremacy, and the vindication of rights, is only possible where there is access to justice and where the constitution guarantees its citizens rights; be it fundamental or statutory. Public power must maintain conformity with constitutional provisions because where there are rights, there are bound to be those who infringe them.
Justice has got to be open. It is a fundamental part of our democracy. It has to be visible but in a case like Sierra Leone, where you only have 63 judges and magistrates serving a population of over 7 million people, there is a lot to be desired, especially in periods of national or global emergencies that may hinge on the Human Rights of citizens.
Sierra Leone’s Judicial System during the Pandemic
Like any crisis, COVID-19 has increased the pressure on our national institutions and highlighted existing cracks. Our public health system cannot do large-scale contact tracing, our schools struggle to bridge the digital divide; and our legal system cannot deliver justice to all our citizens.
Sierra Leone officially had its first case of COVID-19 on March 30, but no control measures were established to prevent the spread of the disease until March 25th when the President of Sierra Leone declared a 12-month National public health emergency to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and to guarantee the right to health for all citizens.
Although COVID-19 is a public health emergency that cannot be dealt with as a law and order problem, it was obvious that the prevailing situation was abnormal and the people’s right to access justice was impaired.
Although the WHO declared COVID-19 as a public health emergency on January 30, 2020, the courts in Sierra Leone continued to function through to the last week of March.