On 9 April 1996, the plaintiff, a political party recognized in the Parliament of Sierra Leone, made a claim in the High Court against the defendants, the National Action for Social Mobilization Secretariat (NASMOS) and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Youth and Sports, for possession of premises and a number of related claims. The defendants submitted that the claim be set aside for irregularity in that it failed to comply with the Petitions of Right Act (Cap 23) 1960 which prescribed the manner in which an action against the Government could be commenced. The plaintiff argued that s 133(1) of the 1991 Constitution abolished the requirement for a fiat or process of petition of right. Nylander J referred the question to the Supreme Court pursuant to s 124(2) of the Constitution. The main question was whether s 133(1) of the Constitution was inoperative until s 133(2) was effected by Parliament. Held, per Joko-Smart JSC, Wright JA, Timbo JSC & Desmond Luke CJ concurring, that the procedural requirement for a fiat or petition of right to commence proceedings against the Government had been abolished by s 133(1) of the Constitution: 1. The Interpretation Act 1971 defines government as “the Government of Sierra Leone (which shall be deemed to be a person) and includes, where appropriate, any authority by which executive power of the State is duly exercised in a particular case”. There was no doubt that the second defendant is part of the Government of Sierra Leone as it exercises some executive power of the State under the Constitution. 2. Two rules of statutory construction must be considered in the interpretation of s 133(1) and (2) of the Constitution. One is the literal rule and one is the purposive rule. If the words of a statute are themselves precise and unambiguous then no more is necessary than to expound these words in their natural and ordinary sense. Where the ordinary words in themselves may be misleading and in order to make assurance doubly sure, it might be necessary to examine the context including the subject matter, the scope, purpose and, if need be, the background of the legislation in order to give effect to the true purpose of the legislation. The Sussex Peerage Case (1844) 11 Cl & F 85; 8 ER 1034; Charles Leader & Anor v George Duffey & Anor (1888) 13 AC 294; Pepper v Hart [1993] 1 All ER 42; Oliver Ashworth (Holdings) Ltd v Ballard (Kent)Ltd [1999] 2 All ER 791 followed; Canada Sugar Refining Company Ltd v The Queen [1898] AC 735 distinguished. 3. The language of s 133(1) of the Constitution is plain and could be read literally. It was clear from s 133(1) that the Sierra Leone Parliament intended to make the Government answerable to persons for all wrongs as if the Government was any other person. This recognized the fact that a Government in a Republic with a written Constitution does not enjoy any more rights than those conferred by the Constitution, thus curtailing the common law prerogatives of the sovereign. 4. Section 133(2) of theConstitution was also clear and could be read literally. The purpose of the legislature wasto abolish the petition ofright process. There was no inconsistency or ambiguity between s 133(1) and (2) or any words to suggest that both subsections were linked contemporaneously or that one was dependent on the other. Therefore, ss 3, 4 and 5 of the Petitions of Right Act 1960 were inconsistent with s 133(1) of the Constitution and were now void. Magor & St Mellons Rural District Council v Newport Corporation [1950] 2 All ER 1226 applied. 5. The Constitution did not repeal the Petitions of Right Act in its entirety; it repealed the substantive law provision in s 3 and only the fiat and its concomitant process in ss 4 & 5. This was what was accomplished by s 133(1). The procedure under ss 6, 7 & 8 remains untouched and it is the procedure to follow in the presence of parliamentary inactivity. Sections 6, 7 and 8 of the Petitions of Right Act 1960, which deal with aspects of the procedure to be followed in an action against the Government, had not been expressly or impliedly repealed by s 133(1) of the Constitution. In the absence of an Act of Parliament pursuant to s 133(2), the existing law as to procedure must be followed. Parliament has not as yet passed legislation to provide for a new jurisdiction governing actions by persons against the Government but that does not mean that private citizens are to be deprived of remedy against the Government with the abolition of the fiat and the petition of right procedure. Attorney General of Canada v Hallett & Carey Ltd [1952] AC 427 applied. Per Wright JA: 6. The purpose of s 133(2) stating that Parliament should make such provision was merely to give assurance of a systemized approach as to the practice and procedural steps for taking action against the Government. Per Timbo JSC: 7. As a general rule of construction, a Constitution, like a statute, must be read as a whole. In other words, the entire Constitution should be examined for the purpose of determining the intention of each section or part. This is what is often referred to as the principle of harmonious construction. Its aim is to reconcile different provisions of the Constitution. 

Search Summary: 

Constitutional Law – Claims against Government – Petition of right – Whether petition of right process abolished by 1991 Constitution – Whether s 133(1) inoperative until effected by s 133(2) – Whether procedure set out in Petitions of Right Act 1960 ss 6-8 still operative – Preservation of individual rights – Constitution of Sierra Leone s 133(1), (2)

Civil Procedure – Claims against Government –Liability of Crown at common lawexplained – Petition of right process abolished – Constitution of Sierra Leone s 133(1),(2) – Petitions of Right Act 1960 

Statutory Interpretation – Constitution – Literal and purposive approach – Preservation of remedies against Government – Constitution to be read as a whole – Constitution of Sierra Leone s 133(1), (2)

Words and Phrases – “Government of Sierra Leone”