Assessing the Competence and Process of Nominating Sierra Leone’s Justice Miatta Samba for Election as ICC Judge

This blog is part of a series highlighting local perspectives about ICC judicial nominations, including the candidate’s qualifications and the process that led to their nomination. By hosting this series, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) seeks to provide a platform for local actors with knowledge of that background to inform a wider international audience. OSJI does not necessarily endorse the views expressed. OSJI has offered an opportunity to civil society groups from all nominating states to express their views.

In May 2020, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL), a State Party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), nominated Judge Miatta Maria Samba, a Justice of the Court of Appeal in Sierra Leone and Judge of the UN-backed Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone, for election as Judge of the ICC. At the 19th session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, slated for December 2020, states will elect six new judges to serve on the ICC’s bench. Judge Samba’s nomination has been met with enthusiasm and endorsed by Sierra Leone civil society based on both the nomination process employed by the GoSL, and on her qualifications in relevant fields of law, competence and experience to serve as a judge of the ICC. In addition, Justice Samba is a Lecturer in the University of Sierra Leone, where she lectures criminal law and also serves as the current Chairperson of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board.

Judge Samba’s nomination complied with the procedure for the appointment of Judges to the highest judicial office in Sierra Leone, which is in line with article 36(4)(a)(i) of the Rome Statue and relevant resolutions, and the provisions of the Constitution of Sierra Leone. In reaching this conclusion, we have also taken note of the need for States to nominate persons of high moral character and integrity so as to safeguard the independence and integrity of the Court, and for States Parties “to also take into account good practices at the national and international levels when conducting their national procedures for the nomination of candidates to the Court.” Importantly, by nominating Justice Samba, a very competent female jurist, the GoSL has taken steps to enhance the gender balance of the Court.

The Process of Appointing Judges to the Bench in Sierra Leone

Pursuant to the Sierra Leone Constitution of 1991, the President of Sierra Leone acting on the advice of the autonomous Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) makes judicial appointments, including of the Chief Justice and other Judges of the Superior Court of Judicature. The requirements for the said appointment include being entitled to practice as counsel in a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in Sierra Leone, or any other country with a system of law analogous to that of Sierra Leone or approved by the JLSC. In the case of appointment to the Supreme Court, the person should have been entitled as such for no less than 20 years.

Noting that Sierra Leone does not have the legal framework for nominating Judges to the ICC, it appears the Government opted to use the existing procedure for appointment to the high judicial office in Sierra Leone for the purpose of nominating a candidate for the position of Judge at the ICC. The GoSL has accomplished a measure of uniformity in appointment of judges, whether for the ICC or the domestic Superior Court of Judicature. This is in view of previous experience and due regard to good practices at the national and international levels, in particular the nomination of judges by the GoSL to the Special Court for Sierra Leone and its successor Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The process of appointing Judges to the Superior Court of Judicature in Sierra Leone is entrenched in the constitutional provisions. The settled practice is two pronged. The first being recruitment that proceeds from an open and general call for applications from the JLSC based on the qualification requirements as set out in the Constitution. The second approach, used mainly for the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, is based on internal evaluations and promotions on the basis of meritorious service as determined and recommended by the JLSC.

For the purposes of the nomination of a candidate for election as ICC Judge, the second track was employed. The second track requires only administrative modifications to enable the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (Foreign Ministry) to perform its facilitating/liaison role. The final decision to nominate Judge Samba was made by the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, which entails an approval of the advisory decision of the JLSC pursuant to section 135(2) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone.

The composition of the JLSC includes members of the Sierra Leone Judiciary, the Bar Association and the public, particularly the University of Sierra Leone and civil society. We therefore rate Judge Samba’s nomination process as being thorough and transparent.

Judge Samba’s Experience

Judge Samba is a professional with both local and international experience. As a lawyer, she has significant experience in both civil and criminal law. Having first worked at law firm in Sierra Leone, Judge Samba regularly practiced law in all the superior courts of Judicature in Sierra Leone, thereby giving her a firm grip on legal practice.

From 2002 to 2006 Judge Samba worked as a prosecuting counsel at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. She later on proceeded to work as a Field Operations Officer at the ICC Office of the Prosecutor Field Office in Uganda. Upon returning to Sierra Leone in 2009, she joined the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) where she practiced as a Senior Prosecutor litigating high-level and complex corruption cases.

In 2015, she was appointed a Judge of the High Court of Sierra Leone. Judge Samba is highly respected within the legal profession in Sierra Leone. She is organized and thorough in her judgements, with a simple yet captivating writing style. She treats litigants, witnesses and counsel with the utmost respect and professionalism. Judge Samba’s integrity is very much appreciated within the legal profession, which makes her an inspiration to female lawyers and women generally.

Judge Samba is very much known to not tolerate delay in cases and has a reputation for the timely delivery of rulings and judgments. Her judgments are well sought after by lawyers in Sierra Leone and are widely used and cited as precedents. In 2019, recognizing her capabilities and respect within the profession, she was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

In addition to being a Judge of the Court of Appeal, she is also the Chairperson of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board which supervises the institutionalized use of paralegals, and provides access to justice to indigent persons and communities in Sierra Leone.

Outside of the courtroom, Judge Samba plays an active role in the promotion of issues relating to women, girls and human rights. Prior to joining the Bench and the Anti-Corruption Commission, Judge Samba was one of the leading human rights lawyers in Sierra Leone providing pro bono legal services to women and girls, and advocated for law and institutional reforms in the country. She was a Member of the Law Reform Commission when the pioneering “Three Gender Bills” addressing gender discrimination on succession, domestic violence and customary law marriage were drafted and eventually enacted.

It is our considered view that Judge Miata Samba will be a valuable addition to the ICC, that her election as Judge will enhance justice and the credibility of the Court, and that she will make a significant contribution to the development of the Court’s jurisprudence.

Ibrahim Tommy, EsqExecutive Director – Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law – Sierra Leone.