On May 22, 2024, in a formal letter addressed to Ms. Michaela Swallow, President of the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA), Mr. Rowland J.V. Cole, a distinguished legal practitioner and long-standing member of the SLBA, expressed serious concerns regarding the conduct of the Association’s recent Annual General Meeting (AGM) and elections.

The AGM, held on May 17-18 under Ms. Swallow’s leadership, is under scrutiny for alleged irregularities and violations of established legal and ethical standards.

Mr. Cole, who was called to the Sierra Leone Bar on September 30, 1994, detailed his observations and the reports he received concerning the election process. He emphasized that the conduct of the elections fell short of the requirements stipulated in the SLBA’s memorandum and articles, as well as the Association’s established practices and the constitutional order of Sierra Leone.

The letter highlighted several specific issues:

Premature Commencement of the Meeting: Verified reports indicate that the AGM started before the published time, without proper notice to all members, leading to confusion and a lack of transparency.

Unannounced Changes to the Agenda: Arbitrary alterations to the meeting’s agenda were made without prior notification to the Association’s members, raising concerns about the legitimacy and procedural fairness of the elections.

Restrictions on Proxy Voting: The long-standing practice of proxy voting was suddenly and inexplicably halted. This change disproportionately affected members residing outside the country, who found themselves unable to exercise their voting rights.

Mr. Cole asserted that these actions violated not only the SLBA’s internal regulations but also several constitutional rights. He referenced Section 26 of the Sierra Leone Constitution, which guarantees freedom of association, suggesting that the measures put in place during the AGM obstructed lawyers from voting freely and fully participating in the Association’s democratic processes.

Particularly concerning to Mr. Cole was the impact of these irregularities on the election of officials, a process he believes should be governed by high standards of transparency, participation, and accountability. The failure to adhere to these standards, he argued, disenfranchised a significant portion of the legal community and created an unprecedented level of chaos within the SLBA.

In his letter, Mr. Cole called on President Swallow and the SLBA executive to take immediate corrective measures. He urged them to annul the purported election results and ensure that credible, fair, and transparent elections are held. This, he stated, is necessary to uphold the integrity of the Association and to ensure that its actions reflect the collective will of its members.

Mr. Cole concluded by reminding his colleagues that adherence to the law is paramount for legal practitioners. He warned that violations of the laws governing the SLBA cannot go without consequence and stressed the importance of rectifying the situation to maintain the credibility and trust in the Association.