Paralegal Justice Services Expand Across Sierra Leone – 16 New Offices to Open in September
Freetown, Sierra Leone, August 23, 2010—The number of paralegals providing free basic justice services in Sierra Leone will more than double next month, as donors join with non-governmental organizations and community-based groups to create a nation-wide network of legal assistance.
The expansion is being funded by the Open Society Foundations, the German aid agency GTZ, Trocaire, and Christian Aid, with technical support from the World Bank, Timap, and the Open Society Justice Initiative. The new field offices will be opened by Timap for Justice, Access to Justice Law Center, AdvocAid, BRAC, Justice and Peace Commission/Caritas, and Methodist Church Sierra Leone.
The effort builds on the model developed by Timap for Justice, which has used community-based paralegals backstopped by lawyers to resolve local disputes since 2003. Timap currently has 26 paralegals operating from 13 offices in three districts; starting on September 6, paralegals will be available at 29 locations in eight districts and the Western area.
In preparation for the launch, 41 new paralegals participated in a four-week intensive training course held at Hastings Police Training School in July with support from the Open Society Justice Initiative and GTZ. Prominent legal experts worked with the group, including customary law officer Monfred Sesay and human rights commissioner Jamesina King.
“It has been a challenging month for the trainees, but we have been impressed by their hard work, staying up to study by candlelight,” said Daniel Sesay, one of the course organizers. “Even though they are from different organizations all over the country, they have come together—we’ve got to keep it that way.”
The paralegals will handle a broad range of cases, ranging from child support to inheritance to employment practices and abuse of authority. They will provide legal information and advice, assistance navigating the authorities, and some litigation support. They will also provide mediation and negotiation services and be involved in community organizing. Paralegals bridge the gap between the customary and formal legal systems, assisting people through both systems as needed.
“I found the sessions on family law and customary law particularly interesting because I’m a family man from the provinces,” said Peter Tucker, a trainee with Timap. “I was a teacher before, but I only taught in the classroom – I find it much more interesting to go out to people who aren’t literate, to the poor, to villages, to empower people to find solutions to their daily problems.”
The new offices can be found at the following locations:
- Access to Justice Law Center: Kabala.
- AdvocAid: Freetown, Waterloo and Kenema.
- BRAC: Port Loko, Masiaka, and Lunsar.
- Justice and Peace Commission/Caritas: Central Freetown, Waterloo, Hastings.
- Methodist Church Sierra Leone: three chiefdoms in Bonthe district.
- Timap for Justice: Kailahun district, Eastern Freetown, and four chiefdoms in Kenema district.
American philanthropist George Soros has committed to financially supporting the expansion of sustainable justice services in Sierra Leone for five years, as part of a wider global programme on legal empowerment of the poor, through the Open Society Foundations. GTZ is joining efforts as part of its project entitled “Promoting the Rule of Law and Justice in Sierra Leone.”
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