“Starting Where the Law Finishes”: An Analysis of the Prerogative of Mercy in Sierra Leone

In August 2016, Rebecca Agliolo – a Law Student at the University of Cambridge – volunteered remotely for AdvocAid. One of the outcomes was an interesting analysis of “the Prerogative of Mercy”, which offers offenders the opportunity of retrospective pardon. Prerogative of Mercy: Background Lapses of the criminal justice system are inevitable in even the most exacting of legal systems. Whether through lack of information, violation of civil rights or human fallibility, occasionally innocent individuals are erroneously convicted of a crime. In most situations, cases are appealed through the judicial system. However, where due process has been exhausted, the Prerogative of Mercy provides an extra-judicial remedy. Perhaps this is why the Prerogative of Mercy is said to “start where the law finishes”.   The prerogative traces its origins to the British tradition, as a form of retrospective mercy offered by the monarch. Today a discretionary power typically vested in either the monarch or head of state, the Prerogative of Mercy functions to ameliorate the harshness of sentencing or alleviate miscarriages of justice; most commonly, an offender may be pardoned, or have his sentence commuted.   In Sierra Leone, the purpose of the Prerogative of Mercy is divorced from its typical function in historical and international contexts. The President may grant a ‘Presidential Pardon’, which is exercised twice a year: on New Year and on Sierra Leone’s Independence Day. The Presidential Pardon is seen to be a gesture of goodwill and celebration.   However, the legal and political backdrop of the Presidential Pardon is not entirely a cause for celebration. In this article I shall first outline the typical functioning of the Prerogative of...

Press Release: No Place for the Death Penalty in Sierra Leone’s Future Constitution

On World Day Against the Death Penalty, 10 October 2013, AdvocAid renews its campaign to ensure that the death penalty is fully abolished in Sierra Leone. The current constitutional review process underway is an excellent opportunity to ensure that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s imperative recommendation to abolish the death penalty is implemented. “Respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life. Everyone has the right to life. A society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself.” Truth and Reconciliation Commission Despite the strides the Government has made in issuing a moratorium on executions, the death penalty is still permitted in Sierra Leone’s laws as the ultimate punishment for crimes of murder, treason and armed robbery. In 2011, the Government commuted the death sentences of all prisoners to life imprisonment. Since then, nearly all former prisoners on death row have either been pardoned or released following appeals or advocacy undertaken by AdvocAid and its Legal Officer, Simitie Lavaly. However, one sole female former death row prisoner remains in Freetown Female Prison on a life sentence, Baby Allieu. Simitie Lavaly, AdvocAid’s Legal Officer, is currently conducting her appeal before the Court of Appeal. Baby Allieu is a young orphan lady who was arrested for wounding her boyfriend who later died. Although she states that she wounded him in self-defence as he was strangling her after initially beating her with a pipe, her defence of self-defence was rejected by the jury at Kenema High Court in 2010. Two other male prisoners (formerly on death row) remain incarcerated and sentenced...

10 Reasons Sierra Leone Should End the Death Penalty

10 October 2012 marks World Day Against the Death Penalty The TRC recommended that Sierra Leone abolish the death penalty. “Respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life. Everyone has the right to life. A society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself.” The Special Court for Sierra Leone, which considered cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, did not have the power to impose the death penalty. The death penalty should be abolished as otherwise ordinary citizens are treated more harshly than convicted war criminals. Many countries across the world have abolished the death penalty: 141 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. Countries with similar histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia, Rwanda and Burundi, have abolished the death penalty. The death penalty is a violation of various international human rights standards. The deterrent effect of the death penalty has never been conclusively proven. A 2009 survey of US criminologists revealed that over 88% believed the death penalty was not a deterrent to murder. The death penalty is irrevocable. No justice system is perfect. Innocent people could, therefore, be sentenced to death. For example, AdvocAid has conducted successful appeals for two women on death row whose convictions were overturned. But limited legal aid services mean that many more innocent people could be sentenced to death. The death penalty is unfair. It is often used disproportionally against the poor, mentally ill and those who are unaware of their legal rights. Constitutional Courts in Uganda and Kenya have held that the mandatory death sentence for...

Sierra Leonean Civil Society Organisations Denounce Executions in The Gambia

We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations based in Sierra Leone, strongly denounce the execution of 9 inmates on death row in The Gambia last week. The executions represent a tragic setback to efforts at developing a human rights culture in the region, with the last execution in The Gambia taking place in 1985, according to The Gambian Government. This action also places The Gambia out of step with its fellow African Union states, the majority of which are abolitionist in law or practice. The recent executions, and threats by President Jammeh of further executions, diminish any hope that the leadership of The Gambian is committed to abolishing the death penalty. We welcome the Sierra Leonean Government’s official moratorium on executions which was issued last year, and call on the Government to take a stand against the use of the death penalty in the region by urging The Gambian Government to halt any further executions and commute prisoners on death row to terms of imprisonment. Such a call is in line with the African Union, United Nations and European Union’s stance. The tragic example set by The Gambia last week also highlights the weakness of death penalty moratoriums. We, therefore, strongly urge the Government to consider the abolition of the death penalty in Sierra Leone, as recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.   AdvocAid Amnesty International Sierra Leone Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law Prison Watch Sierra...

AdvocAid Client Formerly on Death Row Discharged at Re-Trial

Great news to begin the new year! Another woman (formerly on death row) has been discharged. MSK was sentenced to death in 2007. Her conviction was overturned following an appeal by AdvocAid in 2009 and she had to undergo a retrial. An AdvocAid contracted lawyer managed to have her released on bail and she was at least able to be reunited with her family during the long trial process. Just before Christmas, she was discharged by the High Court. Congratulations to the entire AdvocAid Legal Team (especially Lawyer Kamara) and thanks to the Death Penalty...