Pemagbi noted that a huge percentage of the population cannot afford to access justice. He added that access to justice is not just for people in the urban areas. He therefore urged the new paralegals to go into the community and help the poor and marginalize access justice. ‘We at OSIWA believe people must benefit from our support,’ he stressed.
He said there is a lot of work out there and that the paralegals cannot do it alone. ‘You need to work with community actors to create maximum impact,’ he noted. He said his organization has supported other organizations like TIMAP for Justice, NAMATI and LAWYERS to promote access to justice.
He expressed the hope that the training will be participatory and at the same time should bring to the fore critical issues that will impact positively on the work they are doing in the community.
The Lead Consultant at OSIWA, Sonia Osho-Williams said she is impressed at the experiences the Paralegals have acquired over the years working in legal aid. ‘We believe you are the best in the field,’ she said.
Ms. Williams shared her experience of paralegal work in the UK and Sierra Leone, which she under lined has taught her to understand her client and therefore care for them better. She emphasized that having passion is crucial to Paralegal work. ‘Being a Paralegal is a passion; it is a calling; it is a ministry,’ she said. ‘You should always be ready to go to the police station or wherever your services are needed.’
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles told the Paralegals that they must ensure the rights of people are respected while accessing justice. She urged them not to be afraid to mediate except in criminal matters. In addition, they should work with the police to ensure rights are respected’ Also, ensure bad eggs in the police force do not abuse the rights of suspects.
She drew attention to the fact that the Justice Sector has been rated poorly in the past, being the last in the rankings in a number of surveys. ‘The poor and vulnerable are disadvantaged in accessing justice, ’she said. ‘You are going into these communities to reverse this trend because equity in access to justice is a fundamental human right.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said that the way forward for access to justice is through Paralegals. She added that most of the cases in our courts are domestic which could be mediated by Paralegals. She noted that illiteracy and poverty are key challenges to access to justice. Also, this is why many do not want to go to the police or the courts because doing so is costly coupled with the fact that cases could drag on for a long time. ‘Most people prefer mediation to the courts,’ she said. ‘You do not have to take sides in mediating cases. Those who refuse the mediation you should refer to the police or other relevant institutions.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the Board has over one hundred partners across the country they should work with. She told the Paralegals that they should provide assistance to any indigent resident in Sierra Leone regardless of nationality.
The Consultant to the Legal Aid Board, Lawyer Francis Gabbiddon said that a good paralegal system is crucial to promoting access to justice. This is because Paralegals complement other actors in the justice sector. He urged the Paralegals not to hesitate to ask questions because it will help identify those needing assistance and uncover cases of abuse.
The Legal Aid Manager, Lawyer Ansumana Ivan Sesay presented a paper on ‘Expectations of the public and Mode of Operation for Paralegals. What does it entail?’ He described a Paralegal as a provider of legal first aid to the community especially to vulnerable or disadvantaged groups like women, children and the disabled.
He further noted that Paralegals play a key role in the dispensation of justice in the community and as such society expects much from them. ‘The public expect paralegals in the discharged of their duties to facilitate the enhancement of the dispensation of justice at community level by providing legal service to the community i.e. primary justice at the community level and also help in the provision and promotion of community members accessing justice,’ he said. ‘It is also expected that community paralegals in the course of their duties help to protect the human right of the community members at the local level.’
Mr. Sesay said that community based paralegals programs like this one supported by OSIWA occupy an important space in the sierra Leone justice services sector as they provide concrete, proximate and relevant solutions to the most widely experienced justice problems.
The training will continue in the next seven days as the Paralegals will be educated on the Paralegal Training Manual developed by the Legal Aid Board, and Civil and Criminal Law.