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Pilot National Legal Aid Formerly Opens Its New Office

Pilot National Legal Aid Formerly Opens Its New Office

The Government of Sierra Leone under His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and the Justice Sector Development Programme, through the British Council and DFID, are pleased to announce the formal opening of Sierra Leone’s first public defenders’ office, Pilot National Legal Aid, at 4th Floor Ministerial Building, George Street, in Freetown.

A major impediment to access to justice in Sierra Leone and a major cause of the delays in justice is the fact that very few people have access to legal advice on their problems or even worse, access to legal representation in court, especially in the criminal justice system. The majority of people held in our prisons, due to lack of financial resources, have had no access to a lawyer or legal advice and assistance at any stage of their court proceedings.

On January 6th 2010 the Pilot National Legal Aid (PNLA) commenced operations in Freetown out of a small office at the British Council. President Ernest Bai Koroma, through the Information and Communications Minister, the Honourable Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo formally launched the scheme on April 22nd 2010; to which the Government has now allocated permanent office space at Ministerial Building, George Street.

The Government is focused on establishing an independent, sustainable, affordable, credible and accessible national legal aid scheme for Sierra Leonean citizens who cannot afford to pay for the services of a lawyer. The National Legal Aid Bill, set to roll out access to justice throughout the various districts in the country, is now in the hands of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, for forwarding to Parliament.

To date, PNLA has provided free legal representation or advice and assistance in over 900 matters in the courts, prison, remand home and police stations of Freetown, utilizing the services of lawyers and paralegals. Persons in conflict with the criminal justice system may contact PNLA at the Court, Prison, Remand Home or police stations or may walk in to the office at George Street (Fourth Floor) or call on 078 – 200205 or 078- 200204.

Pilot National Legal Aid is committed to helping the poor and vulnerable in our society who without intervention are often left languishing as victims of our criminal justice system.

Take the case of HB: a young juvenile of the age of 15 accused of killing her 37 year old male lover. This questionable and abusive relationship ended tragically with one partner dead. With no one to hear her side of the story or champion her cause, this juvenile languished, seemingly indefinitely, at the Remand home. She had been there two years with no resolution in her case when PNLA intervened in the matter.  After months of negotiations with the Director of Public Prosecutions and court officials, HB’s matter was finally heard and determined by a High Court Judge who wasted no time in passing judgement, leading to HB’s eventual release.

Equal access to justice is the cornerstone to any stable, just and democratic society and Sierra Leone demonstrates its commitment to those principles by its support of this scheme.

PNLA, Freetown

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