In attendance were seventeen Paramount Chiefs including the President of the National Council of Paramount Chiefs P.C. Charles Caulker, Chair of the Moyamba District Council Prof. Bob Kandeh, Members of Parliament, President of the Sierra Leone Motor Drivers Union and representatives of the Traders Council, Commercial Motorcycle/Okada Riders, Sierra Leone Police and the Sierra Leone Correctional Center. ‘We have established Magistrate Courts in every District, we will do the same for the Legal Aid Board,’ the AG made the promised.
The Attorney General encouraged the people to file civil complaints to the Board while drawing attention to the fact that the work of the Board is not limited to the police and courts. ‘The Board will mediate matters between husband and wife so you do have to go to court,’ he said.
He added that his office and the Board work collaboratively to address challenges confronting access to justice such as indictments for remand inmates and delays in proffering advice for cases referred to State Counsel by the Police.
The Attorney General shared an experience he had when he visited the Correctional Center in Kenema in 2016and to his shock found that a female inmate had given birth in the prison and was serving the sentence with her child. He also found some inmates without indictment and bail. ‘I see no reason why the child should suffer because of her mother. We therefore took the necessary action to ensure she is released,’he said. ‘I must say I am pleased to be the first Attorney General to visit the Correctional Center in Kenema.’
The AG had very strong words for those who abuse and take advantage of women. ‘It is an offence to touch a woman without her consent let alone have sex with her,’ he said. ‘Also, the law is clear on issues of inheritance. Women and children have right to property so you should not take advantage of them because they are vulnerable. When the husband is deceased the property should go to his wife and children and not the male ralations.’
The AG was introduced by the consultant to the Board, Lawyer Francis Gabiddon who praised him for serving Sierra Leone for over twenty-seven years. He underlined the AG’s exemplary commitment to the justice system as far back as the nineties when he served in the Law Officers Department.
The Chair for the launch, the District Council Chairman, Prof. Bob Kandeh said the District is doing relatively better in the area of access to justice than the other districtsbased on theFragile States Survey by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development in cooperation with the Strategic Planning Unit of the United Nations.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles told the gathering that the Board has increased the number of lawyers on its staff to twenty as a result of the increase in the number of poor people accessing the scheme. ‘We are all over the country to cater for your justice needs and to ensure your rights are respected as you access the justice system. We do not delay cases because we always attend court sittings and do not ask for adjournments unnecessarily,’ she stressed.
Ms. Carlton-Hancilesnoted that some of the cases taken to the police and the courts should not have been taken there in the first place noting they should be taken to the Board’s Alternative Dispute Resolution service for mediation. She underlined that some of the marital and family issues could be resolved from within by ensuring each and every member meet their responsibilities to the family.
She commended the office of the Attorney General and Ministry of justice for the support to the work of the Board. ‘We spoke with the Attorney General about congestion in our Correctional Centers. We are happy to say action is being taken through the issuing of indictments and speedy advice on matters referred to law officers by the police,’ she said.
The Board’s lawyer for Moyamba, Mohamed Bawoh provided updates on the work of the Board in the district. He said the since January 2017, the Board’s ADR has mediated 150 civil matters. In addition, 180 indigents have been represented at the Magistrate Court across the district, provided advice and legal assistance to 30 matters in Local Court, represented 86 matters in the November 2016 session of the High Court and 90 in the January session of the High Court. Also, the Board has secured 60 discharges at the High Court since January 2017. The office secured 70 cautionary discharges in the High Court and concluded 80 matters in the same.
The Member of Parliament for Constituency 81and head of the Parliamentary Caucus for Moyamba District, Hon. James N.D. Alie said Parliament should be recognized for passing the Legal Aid Act 2012. ‘We make all the fine laws for our people but most times this is not recognized,’ he said. Hon. Alie drew attention to the Section 14 of the Legal Aid Act 2012 which provides that there should be at least one Paralegal to each chiefdom as a testament to the Parliament’s commitment to promoting access to justice especially at community level.
The host, Paramount Chief of Kaiyamba Chiefdom, PC. Foday Gulama called for the appointment of more Justices of the Peace to cater for the increasenumber of people accessing the formal justice system. In addition, there is need for a High Court in every district. The Paramount Chief disclosed that he will provide land to the Board for an office building. He also advocated for more police officers noting that Moyamba is the second largest district in the country. ‘We have fourteen chiefdoms,’ he said.
He noted that accused persons have to walk to the court because the Correctional Service does not have a vehicle. ‘It is not good for accused persons to walk to court.
The representative of the Women’s Forum, Serra Jalloh said the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board has proved that women can deliver if given the opportunity. He noted that the country will make progress if more women are in leadership position.
The launch was climaxed with performances by the WANPOT Comedian and the Children’s Forum Network in Moyamba. The performance by the former depicts challenges women face in inheriting property while that for the latter focused on issues of child labour and abuse.