LAB and OSIWA paralegal training ends with a certification ceremony
The Country Officer of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Joe Pemagbi on Thursday, January 26 presented certificates to 45 Paralegals and staff of the Legal Aid Board at the end of an eight-day OSIWA-funded training. The ceremony took place at the Senior Police Officers Mess at Kingtom in Freetown.
The beneficiaries of the training include 35 OSIWA-funded paralegals of the Legal Aid Board, three Paralegals of the Lady Ellen Women’s Aid Foundation and seven staff of the Legal Aid Board.
In his statement, Mr. Pemagbi said the Board had approached his organization a couple of months ago for support to the scheme. He said Sierra Leone is lucky to be one of nine countries to implement the Legal Empowerment Shared Framework. He added that the Shared Framework is a pro-poor initiative meaning the Paralegals have to ensure those who cannot afford to access justice because it is expensive are able to do so.
He disclosed that six other non-governmental organizations funded by OSIWA will also be partnering with the Legal Aid Board in communities around the country to promote access to primary justice. ‘These organizations will be training their own Paralegals,’ he said. He noted that he will be looking forward to a public-private partnership in promoting access to justice to the poor and marginalized.
Mr. Pemagbi revealed that OSIWA is also funding NAMATI and the Justice Sector Coordinating Office (JSCO) to monitor organizations which are implementing the Legal Empowerment Shared Framework project.
He used the occasion to announce the donation of five motorcycles and computers as part of OSIWA support to the Board.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles underlined that there is still a lot of work to be done in the 14 districts. ‘I am concerned that the jails are still full,’ she said. ‘You have to ensure the numbers behind bar fall. You should resolve cases that would otherwise go to the police or court.’
In this view, she called on the Paralegals to work closely with the Police and the Correctional Service. In additional, they should also work closely with traditional leaders and civil society actors to tackle access to justice problems.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the scheme has opened offices in seven locations in the country and have been able to provide legal assistance to twenty-six thousand (26,000) indigents in the last year. She noted that with 35 paralegals the Board will be able to increase its presence and impact around the country.
She announced that the Board will be opening offices in Waterloo in the Western Area Rural District and Bonthe in the Southern Province. ‘The Waterloo area is one of the fastest growing in the country couple with the fact that the crime rate is among the highest,’ she said. ‘This is why we have assigned a lawyer and five paralegals to the Waterloo area.’ She thanked the Government for it continued support to the scheme.
Giving an overview of the project, the Regional Programme Officer for the East for the Legal Aid Board, James Thomas-Mafinda said the paralegals have hit the ground running since they were deployed in December 2016. He attributed this to the fact that the Paralegals have lived and worked in the district they have been deployed.
‘The Paralegals were living in their respective districts at the time they were recruited, as such they have the advantage of understanding their areas of operation and its people,’ he said. ‘More importantly they have been trained as Paralegals in the past by legal aid organization like NAMATI and TIMAP for Justice.’
He assured that the Paralegals are ready to give off their best in addressing access to justice problems in the community. ‘The Paralegals are ready to implement what they have been taught in eight days,’ he stressed.
The ceremony was climaxed with a skit by the WANPOT Comedians. The skit highlights the injustices people face in accessing the justice. This includes suspects charged on false allegations and the use of money and influence to have people arrested and kept behind bars. It also sensitized the audience on the mandate of the Board and the fact that people should not pay for services of the scheme. It underscored the need for staff of the Board to be non-partisan and impartial.
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