The Sierra Leone Web




Ladies and Gentlemen:

For the second time in three months, and within a distance of about three hundred yards, we are gathered once again to witness a ceremony that symbolizes the transformation and renewal that are now sweeping across our beloved country.

In January, a dilapidated Paramount Hotel, the site of a former reservoir of cultural activities of the city, namely the old British Council, was refurbished and transformed to serve as the new home of the Ministry of Defence. Today, six weeks later, I am pleased to witness a ceremony to mark a successful stage in the refurbishment of this great centre of our judicial system - the Law Courts Building. Last January I said that "day by day, step by step, we are moving ahead towards a peaceful, safer and prosperous Sierra Leone." To this I should add that one by one, we shall not only rehabilitate and refurbish but we shall also where appropriate, rebuild every single structure and institution in this country that has been damaged by the rebel war, or by accident or by sheer human neglect.

As always when one is speaking about public buildings in this central part of our capital, it is relevant to bring in a touch of history. I am not an architect or civil and structural engineer, but I believe that the Law Courts Building is perhaps one of the most solid buildings we have in this country. Standing as it is in the shadow of our historic national landmark, the Cotton Tree, this Law Courts Building is in its own right also a national monument. So, for historical, aesthetic and architectural reasons, we had to rehabilitate or refurbish it, especially after the fire of 1990. Together with the Cotton Tree, and perhaps Fort Thornton (the present State House), this building has always been a tourist attraction. In fact it is my view, and second to the Cotton Tree, the most photographed object in the city. One can picture the beautiful photographs of the building on postcards, in black and white and in colour. The Director of the Philatelic service of the main Post Office can correct me if I am wrong, but don't we have a postage stamp depicting the Law Courts Building? If not, perhaps this major face-lift of the building should arouse interest in having it on a new Sierra Leone stamp.

It is of course a historical building, but how many of us adults, let alone our children, know its history? Who designed it? When was it built? What do the two concrete human figures above the main entrance represent? Here's food for thought for two of our Ministries, Tourism and Education and Youth.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this ceremony is also an opportunity for us to remind ourselves fact that this building is far more than an historical edifice. It stands firmly as a contemporary symbol of our democracy, a symbol of our faith in the rule of law and the administration of justice under our Constitution.

The refurbishment of the building is a major contribution to a renewal of that faith. It should be seen as part of the process of transformation of the judicial and legal services in this country. As I pointed out when I opened the new Ministry of  Defence Building, it goes without saying that improvement in the physical working environment of any institution contributes to greater efficiency and high productivity.

This project which is an important part of our effort to enhance the capacity of our courts to function effectively, has received the generous support of the United Kingdom, through the Department for International Development (DFID). This contribution for which we are most grateful reflects the keen interest of the United Kingdom to help strengthen one of the noble institutions it had bequeathed to us at independence forty-one years ago.

The DFID project will also provide funds for improvement in the management of records and the recording system within the courts. The Government is also currently discussing with DFID a proposal for improving the capacity of Sierra Leonean Judges through adequate logistical support, training and equipment. At the same time, efforts are being made to draw from the Commonwealth family, expertise that will improve the efficiency of our court system by securing the services of a few experienced Judges from other Commonwealth countries. This support would be channeled through another project that is now under consideration by DFID and our Government.

I am pleased to acknowledge the meaningful contributions of others to the restoration of this historic building. In what could be described as a self-help effort, the Sierra Leone Bar Association mobilized its members in raising funds for certain elements of the project, such as painting of the Library, the Clerk's main office and two High Courts in the middle floor on the building. Individual contributions also came from the United States and Canadian Governments. For these we are grateful.

Of course, Government itself made a major contribution to the  refurbishment and equipment of the building. Among other things it allocated funds realised from food donated by the Indian and Italian Governments. The funds were used to finance the completion of the middle floor consisting of the Chief Justice's suites, Supreme Court No. 1, the Office of the Master and Registrar, the High Court Registry, Robbing Room and Library.

Ladies and Gentlemen, while this refurbishing project would significantly enhance the working environment of Judges, Magistrates and other judicial personnel, we also hope that it would have positive impact on the judicial system as a whole. For instance, we hope to see within the shortest possible time, a reduction in the backlog of cases. This backlog is partly attributable to the previous deplorable physical state of the court rooms and other areas of the building.

I realise of course that new coats of paint, repairs and equipment in the building would not solve all the problems that have had a negative impact on the efficiency, and even the integrity of the institution. There are other aspects of the judicial services that have to be addressed. I can assure you that what we are witnessing today is one small but important phase in the wider comprehensive process of national transformation and renewal in our emerging post-conflict Sierra Leone.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure in declaring the newly refurbished Law Courts Building open.