During a keynote address, Sierra Leone’s first female Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz, who also doubles as the co-chair of the Task Force, divulged to the audience that although Sierra Leone has dealt with more than its fair share of injustice over the past few decades, but also believed the country is an example of how injustice can be overcome, and how justice reforms can deliver transformative improvements in people’s lives. Dr. Schwartz warned that majority of people’s justice problems across the world remain unresolved, noting that for as long as possible, that justice systems have delivered justice only for the few – usually the wealthy and the powerful.
The global study found that an estimated 5.1 billion people – two-thirds of the of the global population – lack meaningful access to justice.
The report said that an estimated 253 million people live in extreme conditions of injustice: 40 million people are modern-day slaves, 12 million people are stateless, and over 200 million people live in countries or communities where high levels of insecurity make it impossible for them to seek justice.
Making the case for a people-centered approach to justice delivery, Dr. Priscilla Schwartz emphasizes the need to empower people and communities to recognize when a justice problem arises and the need to take adequate action to tackle such problem. “This approach makes services available to the people that are responsive to their needs, that are speedy and efficient, and that are welcoming rather than intimidating,” said Dr. Schwartz.
The Minister was quick to point out the need to focus more strongly on preventing injustice rather than reacting only after an injustice has occurred. She maintained that the preventive approach gets to the roots of justice problems. “If we really want to close the justice gap, we are going to have to stop injustice from happening in the first place, or at least to nip problems in the bud before they become too serious,” the Minister lamented.
In showcasing Sierra Leone’s progressive trajectory in justice prevention mechanisms, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice explained that the country transformed from a devastating civil war to a peaceful and functioning democracy and in the process defied many observers’ prediction that Sierra Leone would descend into conflict again.
According to Dr. Schwartz, Sierra Leone is also using justice as a tool for economic development. The Minister sighted the setting up of a fast-track commercial court to protect investors in the country.
On the issue of an informal justice service delivery, Dr. Schwartz noted the role played by paralegals in remote parts of the country by representing communities against powerful business interests that are encroaching on their land or destroying their environment.
During the course of the four-day programme highlighting key research findings on the relationship between justice and a range of developmental issues including public health, the environment, and inequality, Dr. Schwartz held several bilateral meetings positioning Sierra Leone as a country open for investment in justice and other government initiatives under the “New Direction”. The Minister also met with Ambassador Leoni Cluelenaere from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, James Goldston, Executive Director of the Open Government Society Initiative, and members from the g7+ Secretariat, where opportunities for partnering with Sierra Leone were discussed.
Before leaving for Freetown, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice was interviewed by Simon Long; The Economist International editor, who was interested in the story of Sierra Leone’s transformation and robust justice sector initiatives of the government. Simon will produce a 2-3-page story on access to justice, using Sierra Leone as a concrete example of the issues involved.
Given the wide readership of The Economist, it is expected such stories would continue to positively portray the country and the government as a safe haven for meaningful investments.