Other beneficiaries include the WAN POT Comedians, members of the National Youth Coalition and six senior officers of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF). The latter includes the highest ranking female military officer, Brigadier Kestoria Kabia and the Director of Gender and Equal Opportunities at the Ministry of Defence Col. Tucker.
The training is aimed at equipping staff and partners with the requisite skills and techniques required for effective and efficient ADR. Moreover, the trainees should be able to use ADR as an alternative to litigation and using effective skill of arbitration, mediation, negotiation and active listening.
This is seen as a welcome development in the Board’s efforts at expanding primary justice services around the country. The Board has seen a steady increase in the number of people accessing its ADR service provided by staff around the country and fifteen satellite offices – Community Advisory Bureaus – in the capital Freetown since it was introduced in March 2016.
The service accounted for thirty-one percent of beneficiaries of the scheme in 2016. This has increased to sixty-three (63%) percent in the first half of 2017. The preference for the Board’s ADR service over the courts – both formal and informal - could be attributed to accessibility especially for people upcountry. More importantly, it is speedy, less cumbersome, cost free, reconciliatory and devoid of the win-take-all adversity which characterizes the courts.
This notwithstanding, there have been concerns within the Board about the quality of service delivered by ADR staff, more so upcountry where cases are mediated by paralegals with little training and experience in ADR and conflict resolution.
This is unlike what obtains in the Freetown office where cases are mediated by two consultants – a Sierra Leonean lawyer of over four decades of practice and a Reverend with vast experience in mediation and civil society activism.
What’s more feedback received by the Legal Aid Board speak of capacity gaps in the quality of service delivered by Paralegals and other staff involved with ADR.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles is of the belief that while a lot has been achieved in mediating civil matters and minor disputes in the community, at the same time there are challenges relating to issues of law, gender sensitivities and human rights in the manner cases are mediate.
Against this backdrop, prioritizing capacity building for staff did not come as a surprise. It was therefore a huge relief when the Board secured funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to train its staff on mediation.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles has this to say in advancing reasons for the training: ‘We cannot shy away from the fact that there have been challenges in the manner ADR is conducted by our staff. Also, there are issues of patriarchy and cultural biases against women in the way justice is delivered in the informal justice sector. People are coming to us because they trust we can address these issues and deliver quality services but we cannot be complacent because we are not there yet. We need to improve on professionalism. This is crucial.’
The former Legal Aid Manager, Justice Ansumana Ivan Sesay presented a paper on Access to Justice, Legal Aid and Alternative Dispute Resolution. He underlined that ADR opens new pathways to resolving disputes which reduces overcrowding that makes court cases unnecessarily slow.
According to Justice Sesay, ADR processes are important to justice systems when effective establishment of alternative means of dispute resolution can significantly reduce the number of minor disputes before the civil courts, helping to improve the availability of judges for cases which must be tried. He added that majority prefer mediation because they do not want to go through the cumbersome criminal and civil justice system.
The training itself was led by two consultants from the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone - Mrs. Memunata Pratt and Mr. Desmond George Williams.
The following subject areas were covered: Mediation and its Underlying Principle; Understanding Conflicts and Management Styles; Introduction to Conflict and Conflict Resolution; Negotiation, Elements of Negotiation and Negotiation process; Women, Culture and ADR; Introduction to Arbitration, Benefits and Drawbacks, Kinds of Arbitration, Kinds of Arbitration and Sources of Arbitration; Skills of Mediation: Active Listening Skills and communication skills and the importance of communication.
Each subject area was climaxed with a role play to deepen understanding of the trainees. One such is the role play on Mediation which relates to a dispute over a plot of land in the community which two childhood friends were desperate to buy. The case had divided the community in the middle and therefore had the potential to undermine peace and security.
Another role play relates to Arbitration over a contract for the construction of an underpass. The dispute arose over a claim by the contractors to be paid for extra work before the expiration of the contract.