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Sierra Leone News: Justice Thompson ruled against the permissibility of multiplying issues

Presiding Commissioner Bankole Thompson has ruled against the State and Defense for injecting during examinations multiplying issues that are before him for adjudication. Justice Thompson had on Wednesday 6 March, 2019 ruled against the State Counsel R.B. Kowa when he had wanted to bring into his examination in chief issues relating to mismanagement of fuel whilst the issues that were being discussed at the time was on fertiliser. In his ruling the Judge clearly stated that he will be very reluctant to have Counsel multiply issues, because according to him all they do “is to take us away from the centrality of our focus into the periphery which may well be prejudicial to how the process should proceed.”  In that regard, he sustained the position taken by Defense Counsel Lansana Dumbuya. Also on Thursday 7 March, 2019, Lawyer Kowa’s objection during cross examination by Lawyer Dumbuya was sustained by the Judge. The Commissioner informed him also that he had earlier ruled on Wednesday that he will enforce strictly the basic principle of law and one thing they should avoid is to multiply the issues. “We did agree, on that day that on the impermissibility rule of multiplying the issues. I said our focus is on fertilisers, it doesn’t seem to me that any useful purpose will be served in making this kind of issue excursion into fuel and generator. I rule against the State when they sought to inject into evidence something about supply of fuel and by parity of reasoning I ruled against your side” he said. It all started during examination in chief of the former Permanent Secretary Abdulai Koroma at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) when he was questioned regarding audit queries about the mismanagement of fuel as contained in exhibit R-1-350 (Auditor General’s Annual Report of 2017). The witness had testified that he is not familiar with the report but agreed that he was responsible for the distribution of fuel in the ministry even though that authority was delegated to his deputy. He also accepted that even though the audit for the year ending 2017 was done in 2018  he  had not got the opportunity to respond to issues that took place in 2017 but had earlier stated that he could not recall whether he responded to audit queries in exhibit X1-62 (Performance Audit into the management of fertiliser by MAFFS). Lawyer Dumbuya then objected saying that they do not have exhibit R-1-350 from which Lawyer Kowa was trying to elicit things that they do not know about. “It wasn’t disclosed to us. We are aware of Exhibit X-1-62 for which we have directed our minds to that - we are going to ask questions. We have strategized to do our work on X-1-62; we do not know where this is coming from “he said. He added that if the State continue to examine the witness on that exhibit he will take the appropriate adjournment that will require him to do an investigation into something that they never had inclination to. The Judge then asked the State to respond, that his colleague is complaining that he is seeking to multiply issues, “we have a familiar position in the law, avoidance of multiplication of issues. But when I hear you mentioned mismanagement of fuel, it struck me as if we are moving away from fertiliser to fuel” he said. He continued to quiz further, “are we trying to elicit similar fact into evidence which may well not be the general rule in ordinary trials? I think he makes a point, is it deliberate or inadvertent” he asks. Lawyer Kowa then replied that it is deliberate and the Judge asked him why he is multiplying issues and that if he is, he need some legal justification. Lawyer Kowa answered in the affirmative and said that there is an exhibit before the court which is R-1-350. “We just heard from the witness that he did not respond to X-1-62 but he responded to R-1-350 in 2017 when he was in the ministry and there are issues which I believe it is best that I deal with at this stage while this witness is here” he submitted. The Judge then asked how that is germane to the case that he is putting forward through his examination in chief of the witness. “Is it that you are trying to kill two birds with one stone? Is it not likely to complicate our process here? When we are taken away from the fertiliser issues, will it enable us to see the root from the tree?” the Judge asked. He submitted that they will be able because - maybe one issue he would be dealing with in respect to this particular witness and ask him possibly to take necessary steps as he may be coming thereafter possibly in a different capacity. “Is that legally tidy, I am very sceptical” the Judge questioned. In response Lawyer Kowa then said he would not mind to abandon that for now until the witness appears again before the Commission to handle some of those issues.

By Zainab Iyamide Joaque

Monday March 11, 2019.