LAB appeals to police to reduce numbers behind bars
The Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles has told the senior officers of the Sierra Leone Police that the correctional centers and cells around the country continue to be full despite the fact that the Board provided legal services to 26,000 clients in 2016.
She expressed the concern while addressing the Executive Management Board of the Sierra Leone Police at their weekly meeting at the headquarters of the force on Wednesday, 15 February 2017.
She lamented the police are detaining some suspects for far too long. She urged the police to admit suspects to bail after completing investigations and to avoid imposing stiff bail conditions.
She drew attention to the case of one Francis Osman Mansaray who was held in detention for nearly one month in Makeni before he was transferred to the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters in Freetown where he is still being held.
She also drew attention to variations in bail and sentencing. ‘We have had cases of different bail conditions for the same offence,’ she said. ‘This is why we are calling for the release of the new bail and sentencing policy without any further delay.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles also called on the police to issue an official statement on civil matters that should not be handled by police. Allaying fears of the police, she assured them that her staff know they should not interfere with investigations. ‘We monitor the police to ensure investigations are consistent with the law and human rights; we do not interfere with the work of the police,’ she stressed.
Responding to an appeal from the Inspector General of Police (IG), Francis Munu not to provide legal assistance to armed robbers who have become notorious for reoffending, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the scheme does not provide assistance to repeat offenders with overwhelming evidence against them. ‘A lawyer is as good as his case,’ she maintained. IG Munu had said earlier on that they detain armed robbers in order to protect society.
‘The important thing to note here is that, victims of armed robbery also form part of the clientele of the Board,’ she said. ”People should also know that we have lost cases in court. Unfortunately, this story is not being told.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles also called on the police to conduct investigations in a thorough manner so that suspects are not charged with the wrong offence. ‘Those who steal should not be charged with the more serious offence of robbery with aggravation,’ she stressed. ‘There is no point charging someone with a more serious offence when the ingredients to prove the case are non-existent.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles assured the police that the Board has no interest in infringing on the mandate of any institution not least the Police. ‘We want to ensure there is synergy between our two institutions so that we can continue to refer matters between our two institutions,’ she said.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles intimated the police that the scheme now has a presence in every district in the country. She disclosed that the Paralegals are running ADR clinics in these districts. ‘These efforts will reduce the pressure on the police,’ she said.
The Inspector General, Francis Munu blamed the negative views people hold about the police on the lack of legal education. He noted that when the police refuse to intervene on matters of land encroachment and debts, people view them unfavorably even though it is the right thing to do.
‘When the police talk to the other party in a matter in the interest of fair hearing, people interpret it negatively,’ he said. IG Munu argued that legal education by paralegals will educate people on issues of law and the justice system. This, in his view, will help them understand the work of the police and as such make an informed judgement on their work.
Both parties agreed to collaborate to ensure hardcore criminals do not benefit from Presidential Pardons after it emerged some prison inmates have impersonated those convicted on less serious offences to benefit from the Pardons. It was suggested that officers should be present at the time when beneficiaries of Presidential Pardons are released from prison to prevent any recurrence.
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