The Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA), Commonwealth Legal Education Association (CLEA) and Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association (CMJA) are concerned about the recent arrest and detention of judges and lawyers in the North West and South West Cameroon under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2015.
Where members of the judiciary and the legal profession are accused of criminal conduct the State is entitled to charge them with the relevant crimes, but the manner in which they are charged and arrested must be consistent with the rule of law and the constitutional safeguards that are afforded to everyone in the country concerned. The judiciary and legal profession, like other members of society, may not be subjected to violations of their fundamental human rights no matter what the charges are against them.
By virtue of its membership of the Commonwealth, the Cameroon is committed to the fundamental values and principles of the Commonwealth, at the core of which is a shared belief in, and adherence to, human rights and democratic principles including an independent and impartial judiciary and the independence of the legal profession.
Any measure on the part of the Executive which is capable of being seen as eroding the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, or the fundamental rights that they are entitled to as citizens or residents of the Cameroon is a matter of serious concern.
The existence of an independent and impartial judiciary and an independent legal profession is one of the cardinal features of any country governed by the rule of law and enhances economic development.
The CLA, CLEA and CMJA in particular note with concern, the arrest and detention of Justice Paul Ayah Abine who was arrested in violation of article 629 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which states that “Where a judicial or legal officer is likely to be charged with committing an offence the competent Procureur General shall request the President of the Supreme Court to appoint an investigating magistrate as well as three other magistrates of a grade at least equal to that of the magistrate incriminated and they shall hear and determine the matter at first instance…“. The CMJA calls upon the President to respect due process in relation to the judicial and legal officers that have been arrested.
The CLA, CLEA and CMJA call on the authorities to respect the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary and their right to exercise freedom of opinion and conscience.
The CLA, CLEA and CMJA express its support of members of the judiciary and the legal profession in the Cameroon in their efforts to maintain their independence and to promote democracy and the rule of law.