PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Her Lady Justice Tejan-Jalloh
First woman Chief Justice (Sierra Leone)
By Ire Fagbemi
Her Lady Justice Tejan-Jalloh was appointed the first female Chief Justice of Sierra Leone in 2008. She was born Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh on April 16, 1949, in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. She comes from a Muslim family and belongs to the Fula ethnic group in Kabala in Northern Sierra Leone. She was raised in a polygamous home, her father serving as a Fula leader, while the rest of the family ran a successful business in Cline Town, located at the east end of the city.
Tejan-Jalloh received her early education at Christian missionary schools: Harford Secondary School for Girls in Moyamba, St. Edwards Secondary School in May Park, and then she received for A-Level education (a higher level of secondary education) in Freetown. She attended Columbia University in New York on a scholarship, where she earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in History and Political Science and graduated in 1971. She subsequently attended the College of Law in London, and completed her Post Finals at the Council of Legal Education in London. In 1974, she was called to the British bar of the Honorable Society of Gray’s Inn. A few years later, Tejan-Jalloh was sponsored by the British Council to pursue a course in International Law, Public Law, Legislative and Treaty Drafting at the Institute of Advanced Legal Education at the University of London.
After completing her studies, Tejan-Jalloh returned to Sierra Leone. She began her legal career in 1975, serving as State Counsel with the Ministry of Justice in Sierra Leone, and by 1986, she was promoted to the role of Senior State Counsel. In 1996, Tejan-Jalloh was appointed as High Court Judge where she quickly gained a reputation for applying the law in a fair and just manner. Tejan-Jalloh steadily rose in the judicial ranks. In 2004, she was appointed as a Court of Appeal Judge, and by 2007, she assumed the position of Supreme Court Judge, making her one of a few women in Sierra Leone to hold the position. Just one year later, Tejan-Jalloh was nominated for Chief Justice of Sierra Leone. Upon approval by Sierra Leone’s Parliament, Tejan-Jalloh became the first female Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, a position she held until 2015, when she reached the retirement age of 65 years. Following her retirement from the judiciary, she was appointed Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner to Ghana.
Tejan-Jalloh’s hard work and steadfast commitment to justice has earned her awards and recognition both nationally and internationally. In 2006, she became a Fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute (CJEI), Canada. She was also recognized as an Honorary Bencher at the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn in 2010. In 2011, she was recognized as Grand Officer of the Order of the Republic (GORSL), which is the highest national honor in Sierra Leone. She has also been awarded the Grand Commander of the Order of the Rokel, one of the highest National Honors in Sierra Leone, given to those recognized for making valuable contributions to the country. She was made an honorary citizen of Little Rock, Arkansas, and has been made a Goodwill Ambassador of Arkansas.
Haja Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh is a true pioneer woman in law. She was the first female Chief Justice in Sierra Leone and the third female appointed to run a judiciary in Africa. Tejan-Jalloh’s success is evidence of societal progress and commitment to a larger female presence in the legal field, and will hopefully pave the way for more pioneer women to come.