This follows the training of ninety-eight volunteers comprising 73 males and 25 females on Wednesday, 5 April 2017 at the Sierra Leone Muslim Congress Secondary School Hall in Wellington, Freetown.
The presentation by the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles covered the Mandate of the Board, Mediation through Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Confidentiality, relationship between the Bureaus and Justice Sector Institutions more so the Police, importance of Community Outreach and Referral of matters of a criminal nature.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the CAB is part of the Board’s initiative at bringing justice to the community. ‘You will become Justice Advocates at the end of this training,’ she said. ‘Where there is no lawyer, you should step in to provide advice and assistance to those accessing the justice system.’
She noted that people should blame themselves for the challenges they face in some of the matters they take to the police. ‘Some of the matters you take to the police could be resolved easily in the community and at no cost to the parties,’ she said. ‘The Bureaus should address these problems by taking ownership of community level disputes to stop them from being taken to the police.’
She observed that the most recent update on the number of inmates at the Pademba Road Correctional Center is very depressing. ‘The facility has over 2,000 intimates as we speak,’ she said. ‘This is very frustrating considering our efforts at bringing the numbers in our correctional centers down. We are bringing you on board to join us in the efforts to decongest the Centers. ’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said that the Bureaus should do a human resource audit of the volunteers, which should guide the assignment of roles and responsibilities. ‘The audit should inform specific responsibilities assigned to volunteers based on their areas of specialty,’ she said. ‘For instance, those who have experience in marriage counseling should handle marital issues.’
She emphasized the need for community meetings to educate people and examine issues responsible for disputes in the community. It should also provide an opportunity to talk to the people directly including those who are prone to criminality.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles underscored the imperative for confidentiality in the relationship between volunteers and those accessing the Bureaus. ‘You should not discuss in public matters you have mediated,’ she said. ‘To do so will amount to a breach of trust which could put off people and hence undermine the credibility of the Bureau.’
She said the Board is working with the Ministry of Works to set up the Rent Assessment Tribunal which has not been functional for over twenty-five years. ‘The excessive increase in rent in illegal,’ she said.
Proffering pieces of advice on matters the Bureau will be mediating, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said they should expect an increase in maintenance matters in days leading to the opening of schools and that in all such cases the best interest of the child should be the guiding principle. Land issues should be referred to the Ministry Lands which is best suited to handle all such matters. On issues of inheritance, they should keep eye on those who may try to lay claim to property that belongs to the family or several people.
Staff of the Board made presentation on the Bye-Laws for the Bureaus, relationship between the Bureaus and other Legal Aid Service Providers, reporting, monitoring, documentation of activities of the Bureaus and the role of the community in promoting access to justice.
The Councilors for the four Wards pledged to give the Bureaus the necessary support to become relevant to the community. Councilor Sheku Turay of Ward 354 urged the volunteers to take their new responsibilities serious and reduce the number of community members at the Pademba Road Correctional Center. Councilor Alusine Conteh of Ward 355 appealed to the Board to organize outreach events in the community to educate people on issues of law and access to justice.
The Chair of the Police Partnership Board for the East, Alhaji Algassimu Sesay urged the volunteers to take advantage of the opportunities the Bureau is availing them and reduce the crime rate. He encouraged them to implement what they have learned. He said with the Legal Aid Board those who are well-off and can afford a lawyer can no longer take advantage of the poor.
The Officer Commanding Approved School Police Post, Inspector Thomas Kargbo said they have referred minor matters to Councilors for mediation rather than charge them. Also, they have charged some matters only after the parties reject offers of mediation. He pledged to work with the Bureaus by referring matters that are not meant for the police.
Other speakers include representatives of the Disabled, Youth, Women, Tribal Heads and Religious leaders.