Sierra Leone: Ombudsman rules against aggrieved law school students
Sierra Leone’s Ombudsman has ruled against some students, who were challenging the decision of the country’s Law School not to admit them.
In a report marking the conclusion of the five months of investigation, the Ombudsman found the administration of the Law School of Sierra Leone not wanting in the allegations levied against it by the group of 50 students, who were denied admission after completing their Bachelor’s Degree in Law (LLB) with the hope of being called to the Bar.
As an academic routine, after the four-year degree programme, successful candidates, who want to become practicing lawyers, go through a year-long intensive training at the Law School as a prerequisite to be called to the Bar.
This case in 2015 attracted nationwide attention as the affected students mounted a mass media campaign and unsuccessfully sought the intervention of the government, up to the office of President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The students alleged that the move to deny them entry was part of a nepotistic plot designed to deprive non-Krio Sierra Leoneans from joining the legal fraternity.
The legal profession, considered as one of the elitist professions in the country, is regarded by many as a preserve of the Krios, who are descendants of former freed slaves. This belief is often supported by the fact that due to Sierra Leone’s largely ethno-regional politicking, the Krios, one of the country’s minority ethnic groups, who are mostly resident in the western part of the country, are denied their share of the political cake.
But as some sort of compensation, they occupy top influential technocratic and professional positions. They notably dominate the legal profession. The Law School, for instance, is headed by a Krio and the legal education council which governs it is dominated by them.
Some of the aggrieved students say this explains why they were denied admission and they felt it was unconstitutional.
After failing to get the government intervene in the matter, the students wrote to the Ombudsman in September 2015 requesting its intervention. Among others, they questioned the legality of the procedure used by the school’s management to disqualify them. They also alleged that the school had been admitting students that also failed the core law subjects at LLB level, and that no notice was given to them by the School with regards to a change in admission requirements.
The Law School, for its part, defended its right as an educational and professional training institution, to set its criteria for admission.
The Sierra Leone Law School is one of the oldest in West Africa.
And the school’s management said that it was obliged to protect its standard, hence the stringent criteria of admission.
On assumption of office in May 2017, Ombudsman Melron Nicol-Wilson took up the matter following the retirement of his predecessor.
“The Ombudsman found that the complaint against the Sierra Leone Law School by the aggrieved law graduates does not have merit and as such, he could not recommend that the complainant be admitted into the Law School,” the Office of the Ombudsman said in a statement.
The case had been handled by both the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL) and the Anti-Corruption Commission body and they did not find the school wanting in its decision.