AMANDLA! VANGUARD EDITION
Umu Hawa Tejan-Jalloh, GCOR, ORSL
Retired Chief Justice of Sierra Leone
Former High Commissioner to Ghana
Fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute, Canada
Member of the Judicial Council of ECOWAS
Honorary Bencher, The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, London
My Story, Your Inspiration
Upon graduation from Harford School for Girls in 1964 and St. Edwards Secondary School for boys in 1965, where girls were only admitted in the sixth form, I won the Herald Tribune World Youth Forum Award in 1965, in New York, USA, where I represented my country among 25 other students from other countries. That was the beginning of my love for diplomacy. But with advice from elders, after graduation from Columbia University in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Political Science, I decided to pursue a career in law in England. I attended the College of Law in London and did the Post Finals at the Council of Legal Education in London. In November 1974, I was called to the Bar of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn.
Back in Sierral Leone, I was appointed State Counsel in 1975 in the Ministry of Justice, after which I served as Senior State Counsel and later Principal State Counsel. During that period, I acted as Locum Tenens for the Director of Public Prosecution appearing in all courts of the land, writing opinions and advising on various matters affecting the state.
In 1995 during the civil war in Sierra Leone, I was appointed High Court Judge and transferred to the provinces to do both civil and criminal cases. Those were difficult and trying times in the annals of my career as Judge and for the country as a whole. It is my fervent prayer that there will be no such recurrence. I served as High Court Judge until 2004 when I was elevated to the position of Justice of the Appeal Court. I remained there until 2007 when I was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone.
A year after my elevation to the Supreme Court of Judicature, I was appointed Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, the first woman to hold that position in the history of the country. On my appointment as Chief Justice, I realised there were challenges in a male dominated society and judicial system. But I was blessed with mentors and a hardworking ‘Ghanaian Consultant’ (Master & Registrar), and a very good team of colleagues, who supported me through the years; and with patience, hard work and perseverance, we were able to meet our challenges.
My advice to the younger generation is for them to be diligent in their work no matter where they may find themselves in this noble profession, as there is dignity in labour. For those that might find themselves on the bench, always let your conscience be your guide in your dispensation of justice, because at the end of it all, there is nothing as beautiful as a clear conscience.