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Joint statement on the draft Legal Aid Bill 2010

Joint statement on the draft Legal Aid Bill 2010

In advance of the Pilot National Legal Aid Scheme Stakeholders Meeting of 14th – 15th April 2010, the coalition of Civil Society Organisations involved in human rights advocacy and the provision of justice services to communities in Sierra Leone would endorse the recently released draft legal aid bill.

We recall our letter dated 6th February 2010 to the Honourable Attorney-General and Minister of Justice among others, in which we expressed our conviction that community-based paralegals and other justice service providers have a crucial role to play in the proposed legal aid framework for Sierra Leone.

In the Government of Sierra Leone’s Justice Sector Reform Strategy and Investment plan 2008-2010, providing ‘primary justice’, i.e. justice at the community level was identified as a key priority. The strategy recognised and rightfully so, that about 70% of our people do not have access to the formal legal system and that there is need to make sure that ‘alternative systems for delivering justice are functioning properly and fairly’. In its three pronged approach to dealing with the problem of access to justice, the government pledged to support ‘the users of the justice system- through the provision of widely available community based paralegals’ in partnership with civil society.

In our experience, in the context of the population making frequent recourse to customary institutions and a small, Freetown-focused cadre of lawyers, an exclusively lawyer-based legal aid model focusing exclusively on the criminal justice sector would not be appropriate for Sierra Leone. Justice problems are wide ranging, from intra-community breaches of rights (eg. domestic violence, child maintenance, inheritance, property disputes or matrimonial cases) to justice issues between people and their authorities (eg. corruption, abuse of authority, failures in service delivery). An approach incorporating these issues is also essential so as to ensure that women’s pressing justice needs are met, many of which involve breaches of rights within traditionally ‘private’ family settings. Community-based paralegals working with communities on the frontline of justice problems are best placed to understand the issues and the form of intervention most appropriate to a specific case.

Users of paralegal services in Sierra Leone and community members in which they work have praised paralegals for their accessibility, cultural awareness, and ability to resolve difficult disputes. Women have reported that they feel empowered by the intervention of paralegals, and many commend the speed at which disputes can be resolved, allowing the parties to settle conflicts and move on. Others observe that young people are now being listened to by their elders because of the intervention of paralegals, and that this means they stay in rural communities rather than migrating to the cities.[1]

The current draft bill is a commendable attempt to establish a platform for the improvement of access to justice for everyone, particularly the poor and marginalised in Sierra Leone, and an important step towards bringing government and civil society together to work towards this.

In particular we would observe:

  • We support the bill’s endorsement of community paralegals, which pose a flexible, cost effective method of delivering justice services to a large part of the population. 
  • The provision for a mixed model increases the chances of success and sustainability of the legal aid scheme. 
  • Public/private partnership importantly enables the sharing of responsibility for justice service provision between government, the private sector and civil society.
  • The bill incorporates both criminal and civil cases, recognising that many of the most pressing justice needs in Sierra Leone, and particularly those faced by women, are civil.
  • The proposed structure for a legal aid board would allow a reasonable degree of independence.  It will be important, going forward, for civil society to actively participate in, and monitor, the board, to ensure that the promise of independence is realized.
  • The draft contains good definitions and clarification of roles.
  • The provision for accreditation of civil society organisations and university law clinics as legal aid providers will make access to public institutions easier and therefore the work of such organisations in providing legal services more effective.
  • We would be keen to learn more about the process of drafting the Legal Aid Guide and to be involved in the consultation for the development of that document.

The draft bill is the first of its kind in Sierra Leone to provide for legal aid in criminal and civil cases for indigent persons and when enacted will be of vital importance to those who do not have the means to enforce or defend their rights. It provides a clear and practical approach that has potential to make access to justice a reality across Sierra Leone.

Community-based paralegals can provide approachable, culturally acceptable, quick, inexpensive and effective ways to access justice. A legal aid framework that combines the proven utility of community based paralegal interventions with the representational role of legal practitioners has a more significant chance of making a dent in the huge access to justice deficit that the government seeks to reverse. As members of civil society, we are anxious to partner with the government to make good its promise to the users of the justice system and this current process is an opportunity to do so.

We call upon all stakeholders within the justice sector, His Excellency the President, Members of Parliament and the general public to support the enactment of this bill into law unequivocally and at the earliest opportunity, and pledge our commitment to the implementation of the provisions of the legal aid law when enacted.

Dated the 12th day of April 2010                                  


1. Valnora Edwin Campaign for Good Governance, 11 Old Railway Line, Tengbeh Town, Freetown
2. Simeon Koroma Timap for Justice, 4E Mudge Farm, Off Aberdeen road, Freetown
3. Marie-Louise Schueller Christian Aid, 8 Kosie Williams Drive, Freetown
4. Sabrina Mahtani Advocaid, c/o CARL, 30 Wellington St, Freetown
5. Patrick N Johnbull Justice and Peace Commission, Archdiocese of Freetown and Bo, 25 Kingseller St, Freetown
6. Aitor Sanchez-Lacomba International Rescue Committee, 35 Frazer St, Freetown
7. Lotta Teale Open Society Justice Initiative, 31 Murray Town Road, Freetown
8. Mohamed Suma Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, 30 Wellington St, Freetown
9. Barbara Bangura Grassroots Empowerment for Self Reliance (GEMs), 7 Percival Street, Freetown
10. Vivek Maru Justice for the Poor Programme, World Bank
11. Chernor M B Jalloh Access to Justice Law Center, 1 Flower Corner, Makeni
12. Joseph Ndanema Methodist Churches Sierra Leone, Development Unit, 4 George St, Freetown
Barrister and Solicitor of the High Court of Sierra Leone 

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[1] See Delivering Justice to Sierra Leone’s Poor: An Analysis of the Work of Timap for Justice, Pamela Dale, Justice for the Poor Research Report 1/2009

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  • Hi

    The Legal Aid Project is quite interesting and I support this venture. I am a solicitor of England and Wales and I have experience of how the Legal Aid scheme works in the UK. The scheme has helped a lot of people who cannot afford to pay privately for legal fees. I would like to be involved should you need my assistance.

    Good Luck!!

    24th April 2010

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