CARL-SL welcomes new legal aid law, urges coordinated implementation.
Freetown, May 15 2012 – The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) yesterday congratulated the Sierra Leone Parliament for passing one of the most progressive legal aid laws on the continent. The bill, which was unanimously passed on May 10, represents a significant step forward in improving access to justice for indigent Sierra Leoneans. It provides for free legal representation and advice to indigent Sierra Leoneans in both criminal and civil matters. In a country where approximately 70% of the legal needs of the people are still unmet, the law would ensure equal access to justice and to free professional legal representation and advice.
“The high cost of justice is a major impediment to accessing justice in Sierra Leone. Women and children who come in conflict with the law are particularly at risk. I am confident that the legal aid law would bring about significant improvements,” CARL’s Executive Director Ibrahim Tommy said today.
The bill, which will be presented to the President for his assent this week, creates a public-private partnership between government and non-state actors in providing justice services to particularly indigent Sierra Leoneans. Accordingly, it provides that paralegals will be assigned to each chiefdom in Sierra Leone who will be responsible for providing information about the relevant law and legal processes, legal education to Paramount Chiefs and inhabitants of the chiefdom, as well as referring and diverting cases to legal practitioners and the formal justice system. The presence of trained paralegals in these communities would help raise public awareness about the laws as well as resolve civil cases that would have otherwise been tried in the courts.
“By explicitly providing that paralegals are to be deployed in each of Sierra Leone’s 149 chiefdoms, the law ensures that a flexible and cost effective method of delivering justice services to large parts of the population will be available, in a country that doesn’t have a sufficient supply of qualified lawyers, especially outside the capital, Freetown,” said Barrister Sonkita Conteh, Programme Director, Namati Sierra Leone.
When the President signs the bill into law, primary responsibility for implementing it will rest with the Sierra Leone Government. A coordinated implementation schedule with its international and local partners, as well as devoting significant amount of resources would be critical to a successful implementation. The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) will lend its unflinching support to the implementation process.
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