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Sierra Leone News: Judge rules against ‘admissibility of expert evidence’ objection

Lawyer Dumbuya

Justice Bankole Thompson has ruled against an objection made by Lawyer Lansana Dumbuya on the testimony given by a senior official form the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) who was testifying on behalf of the State. On Friday February 15, 2019, the formal and factual witness was testifying as a professional and corroborating the evidence of the Auditor General, the Counsel for the Person of Interest (POI) Lawyer Dumbuya told the Commission of Inquiry (COI) that he wasn’t informed that the said official was an expert witness. Lawyer Dumbuya objected on the grounds that it is strange for the witness to be reading directly from the statement he made to the Secretariat. Also it seems to him that the witness is giving an expert opinion. He added that when the need arises for the State Counsel tobring someone to give expert opinion and technical opinion in certain technicality they are supposed to have been informed earlier so as to have an opportunity to seek the opinion of another expert equivalent to the witness. This he says is required for them to be able to effectively cross examine the witness. He informed the Judge that after going through the details of his statement which was submitted into evidence as exhibit Y 1-12, the witness he said will be giving certain opinion with regards to technical aspect of agriculture and making conclusions and what he might have done if it was him. After Commissioner Thompson has sought clarification form Lawyer Dumbuya on the basis of his objection, he then asked State Counsel Lawyer R. B. Kowa to respond. In his response Lawyer Kowa said that he had already informed the Commission on Thursday 14 February, 2019 of this expert in the dock an expert witness who is an agriculturist and Chief Agriculture Officer at MAFFS. “I did state that he is going to testify in respect of his expert opinion and facts. I don’t know…, but I am yet, even in the strictest sense of the law to see wherein you are stopped from seeking expert opinion if you so desire when you want to cross examine or even to bring in your own expert witness” he retorted. The statement he said has been served long before now, “I am still confused as to what the objection is about, he is testifying to fact, and anybody can answer that question not necessarily an expert in the field if the person has the information.” Lawyer Kowa also drew the attention of his colleague mentioning the evidence that was given by the Auditor general’s representative. At which point, Lawyer Dumbuya interjected saying that the witness should not be mistaken with the official from MAFFS. The Audit Service witness he said was part of an exercise that presented a report he was part of, unlike the MAFFS witness. “If he testifies on issues of facts I will not be objecting, but when he goes into the arena of proffering an opinion that is the problem. Now I know, initially I didn’t know he was called as an expert” he said. In that regard, he acknowledged that the Commissions and that the Rules of Evidence are flexible. “My colleague need to be aware that the integrity of the interested persons are at stake and therefore they ought to be able to observe some amount of discipline way of putting the evidence before the judge, so that it does not prejudice them.” He noted that at the end, when the Commission takes a decision it is equal to the decision of a High Court and they cannot do otherwise except they go to the Court of Appeal. Whatever the Commission says he stated will impact the life of the POIs. “I have no problem that he is coming as an expert but I have to be informed. There ought to have been an expert report served on us, so that we are able to study and evaluate the credibility qualifications and the credentials of the expert. Is he really an expert because he gives an opinion?” he asks. At the end of the argument between the two Counsel, the Judge ruled that the Practice Directions vest the Commission with a discretionary latitude in matter of admissibility of evidence. To this end, “I am not bound by the strict rules of admissibility of expert evidence as applicable in the traditional common law setting of a trial. For this reason I overrule the objection and reserve the right for the persons of interest to avail themselves of the assistance of an expert to rebut any expert evidence that this particular witness may have given” said Justice Thompson. He added that he also reserve the right of POI to cross examine as vigorously and aggressively as possible the MAFFS witness, in respect of matters that may not necessarily fall within the realm of expert testimony. The witness was then asked to continue with the testimony.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Friday February 15, 2019.

 

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