Legal Aid launch access to justice campaign
‘I am heartened our biggest achievement has been the impact we have had on ordinary people who before now have no institution to turn to for help. These days, when people are faced with a situation wherein their rights are about to be violated, they threaten to call in the Legal Aid Board. This has worked for many. Those who have reported such matters to us, we have intervened to ensure their rights are respected.’ This comment was contained in the speech delivered by the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles at the launch of the ‘scaling Up Access to Justice to Justice Leaving No One Behind’ last week.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles unveiled some of the most ambitious programmes in expanding access to justice to every corner of the country. She said that the Board now has a presence upcountry with the opening of offices in six of the twelve district headquarter towns.
She further noted that, to kick start the campaign, six lawyers have been deployed upcountry on 1 September 2016. The lawyers will provide legal assistance to indigents having matters in the seventeen Magistrate and High Courts upcountry.
‘As part of the campaign, the Board will train Trusted Partners as Paralegals and Mediators to enable them resolve matters of a non-criminal nature in their respective organizations and also do legal education,’ Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said. ‘We have stepped up legal education upcountry through community and radio outreach. Our staff have organized several community outreach events in the regional headquarter towns. They also participate in regular phone-in programmes on community radios. This is having a positive impact on the way people in conflict with the law are treated by the police. We will broaden the reach of our outreach by going into chiefdoms outside the regional headquarter towns.’
In order to decongest the police stations and the courts, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles disclosed that the Board will establish Citizens Advisory Bureaus in every Ward in the country to handled community level problems that are not of a criminal nature and at the same time do referrals for matters which do not fall within their remit.
She noted that with support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the Board will deploy 35 paralegals across the country to monitor the police stations, Correctional Centers and the informal courts to ensure their operations are consistent with our laws and human rights standards.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles also had good news for children. She said the Board will launched the ‘Child Protection under the Law’ programme to ensure the rights of children are expected. The programme will assist with enforcing the rights of children consistent with the Child Rights Acts and the Sexual Offences Act. ‘Issues of early marriage, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence will be a priority for the Programme,’ she stressed.
In launching the campaign, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Hon. Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara reiterated government’s commitment to ensuring access to justice for everybody. He said the campaign will ensure access to justice is expanded in a manner we have never seen before. ‘The President believes we should have equality before the law,’ he said. ‘This is why you should come to the Legal Aid Board if you cannot afford a lawyer.’
The Attorney General said that the government has brought the courts to the doorstep of the people so they do not have to pay to access justice. ‘In six months, we have established courts all over the country,’ he said. ‘Our people including witnesses do not have to travel from Kailahun to Kenema to attend court sittings.’ He said. ‘Also, we have recruited twenty (20) lawyers to reduce delays in the courts.’
The Attorney General said that salaries of magistrates and judges have improved to motivate them to do more. He praised the Chief Justice, Hon. Abdulai Charm for sitting on cases on Saturdays.
The Attorney General noted that the justice sector is faced with challenges regarding missing files for remand inmates. He said his office will ensure those who are not supposed to be in prison are not kept there.
He said the setting up of the Commission for the Disabled and the Children’s Commission is a demonstration of the government’s commitment to the rights of the poor and vulnerable. He added that the government has also passed Gender Laws and the Customary Marriage Act to guarantee the rights of women. ‘Women have a rights to property this is why we will not allow male relatives to take advantage of them,’ Hon. Joseph Kamara said. ‘In the same breath, the government will be setting up a National Health Scheme to protect the vulnerable in society.’
He said that the Government also passed the Local Court Act 2011 to improve access to justice in the informal courts. At the same time, the customary laws have been strengthen to ensure rights issues are respected customary level.
The Chairperson of the launch, the eminent legal luminary, Francis Gabbiddon ESQ reminded his audience about innocent people languishing in our correctional centers which the Legal Aid Board has been trying to put a stop to. He noted that the Board is gradually putting to a stop the days of impunity which brought about the war. ‘The TRC recognized the role of lack of justice in bringing about the war and this something we should be careful not to repeat.’ he said.
He pointed out that the Board cannot do it alone and therefore would need the support of Trusted Partners in civil society to get the work done. ‘We all have a role to play to ensure people are given affordable access to justice,’ he said. ‘The campaign will start with the police because they are a crucial ‘Trusted Partner’ in achieving access to justice.’
He praised the Attorney General and Minister of Justice for issuing out one hundred and eighty-two (182) indictments for the September 2016 Judicial Session. The Chair recognized the massive impact the first homegrown Attorney General and Minister of Justice and the Chief Justice are having on improving access to justice.
Statements of support were delivered by the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Mr. Sunil Saigal, the Acting World Bank Country Manager, Sheikh Alhaji Yayah Sesay, the Country Officer of OSIWA, Joe Pemagbi and the deputy British High Commission to Sierra Leone.
United Nations Resident Coordinator reiterated the United Nation’s commitment to supporting the government’s efforts in improving access to justice for all especially for the most vulnerable. He described the campaign as an important step to strengthening access to legal aid in the country, especially for the impoverished and those most vulnerable to the justice system.
Acting World Bank Country Manager said that justice and the Rule of Law are central to the Bank’s core agenda of ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity. He added that the Bank has supported a number of justice improvement activities as an integrated part of projects focusing on public sector reform, governance and anti-corruption.
The Country Officer of OSIWA, Jose Pemagbi said his organization will work with government through the Legal Aid Board and non-governmental organizations to deploy thirty-five (35) paralegals and other community service providers to provide primary justice services in the country.
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