The Legal Aid Board on Friday 7 August 2015 briefed President Ernest Bai Koroma on its mandate and activities at a meeting at State House, Freetown. The Legal Aid Board was formed in 2012 to provide accessible, affordable, credible and sustainable legal aid services to indigent persons and other related matters.
President Koroma said the establishment of the Legal Aid Board is a step to ensure access to justice, and protecting the human rights of citizens of the country - a practice that is in line with democratic good governance. He reminded the board of its responsibility to not just inmates of correctional centers, but even to ordinary citizens to access justice.
He urged the board to ensure that people are aware about the existence of the Legal Aid Board by embarking on massive sensitization across the country, pointing out the need to continue spot checks to correctional centres. He also mentioned the need to address the issue of those who have overstayed detention, and “clean up that backlog and use the prerogative of mercy when necessary.”
Commenting on the significance of collaboration, President Koroma stated that the local courts and paralegals must ensure that they are properly grounded on customary laws and the issues involved and also what it takes in trying to modernize the laws. He assured of government’s support and urged the board to heighten the board’s profile and make it relevant so that at the end of the day people feel secure and have confidence in the whole justice system. He also assured the board of his participation in the launching of the Legal Aid Board to help them in their sensitization and public education.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board Madam Claire Carlton-Hanciles said their mandate covers the poor, accused persons, convicts and suspects. She expressed delight that Sierra Leone is also part of the Legal Aid Board and has piloted it into an act under the leadership of President Koroma. She explained that the board has been able to sign a partnership agreement with the Sierra Leone Bar Association so that lawyers will be able to represent accused persons, suspects and convicts. She furthered that they have been working with the correctional centres to meet international human rights standards and psychosocial and rehabilitation aspects of the prisoners.
Madam Carlton-Hanciles informed that they will be having offices in Bo, Kenema and Makeni and for the first time have lawyers who will be employed for poor people and the Bar Association as a backup. She added that the board will send in paralegals that will help the local chiefs to understand the court processes and all the issues that surround proceedings.
Highlighting some of the recent activities, Madam Hanciles reported that they have held an operationalized workshop, held their five year strategic plan and in the process of partnering with the media to transmit messages of rule of law, governance and of good behavior. Under President Koroma’s administration, she said, they have a lot of legal aid and access to justice issues that Sierra Leone is now benefitting from. “The idea that there is no lawyer for the poor, in time to come will not be there as well,” she stated.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.