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Guinean Lawyers Call for Improvements to Justice System

Guinea's legal community took advantage of the opening of this year's first criminal court session in Conakry to call for an end to years of interference by the executive branch in the justice system.

Guinea opened its first 2010 session of criminal court this week to hear 115 cases, four of which are cases of international drug trafficking. Other charges include murder, rape, arson and armed robbery.

Guinea's legal community expressed hope this new court session and the country's new transitional, power-sharing government under Prime Minister Jean-Marie Dore would usher in much-needed improvements to the country's justice system, including increased respect of legal protocol and a decrease in executive influence on the judiciary.

Court chairman Doura Cherif called for the application of a law that lays out the proper procedure for appointing judges.

He says in 19 years, no president or government minister has been able to apply this measure. He says dominating the justice system is part of an old power structure based on traditional chiefdom that is difficult to reconcile with principles like the separation of judicial and executive powers.

Guinea's bar association president Mohamed Sampil says the four drug trafficking cases before the court present particular challenges.

Sampil says the impending trial is marked by issues like serious procedural violations, human rights violations, interference by the executive branch, the summoning of the judges assigned to the cases, and excessive media coverage of those accused of drug trafficking.

Sampil deplored the dysfunctional state of Guinea's legal system, particularly its lack of regularity in holding criminal courts and the subsequent long detentions of prisoners awaiting trial.

State Prosecutor Paul Fofana responded that by law prisoners can not be detained more than 12 months before trial, excluding those charged with crimes like drug trafficking and pedophilia who can be held up to 24 months.

Fofana says despite incidents that have drawn out the process, judicial standards with regards to detention have been observed up to this point.

The state prosecutor says the trials are also an opportunity to demonstrate Guinea's commitment in the fight against international drug trafficking.