‘This will reduce the pressure on the police and the courts,’ she said. ‘We will invite all the proposed Trusted Partners including those of you here to a meeting in the coming weeks to sensitize you on what ‘Trusted Partners in Law and Order’ means and what we expect of you.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles added that Trusted Partners will ensure the Rule of Law obtains in the various organizations by settling matters of non-criminal nature. ‘We will build the capacity of all our Trusted Partners by training them as Paralegals and Mediators,’ she said.
Speaking on challenges confronting access to justice, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the courts are clogged up with minor non-criminal offences. She observed that there have cases where complainants lie to the police in their statements to lend weight to their case and deceive the police with charging suspects with a criminal offence.
She noted that some of the charges are inconsistent with the crimes committed. ‘We have debtors been charged with obtaining money by false pretense even though they have paid part of the money they owe,’ she said. ‘Also, some are charged with robbery with aggravation even though no weapon was used in the commission of the crime.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said many people take matters to the police because they do not have an option. ‘The legal Aid Board is providing the option which was absent in the past so that you would not have to go to the police for minor cases,’ she said. ‘The IG is ready to instruct police officers to transfer cases that are not of a criminal nature to the Legal Aid Board.’
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles informed her audience that the Legal Aid Board will be opening Citizens Advisory Bureaus in Wards across the country. She said that the Board will train, advice and assist the Bureaus with raising funds.
Mr. Muctarr Williams of Sierra Leone Labour Congress lamented the challenges poor people face in accessing justice and the fact that as a nation we have not learned from the lessons of the decade-long conflict. ‘We were fed up with the legal system because it did not serve the interest of the poor,’ he said. ‘We had a situation in which the poor are on the losing side. We are happy things are beginning to change with the advent of the Legal Aid Board.’
Mr. Williams criticized some lawyers for not treating their clients fairly. ‘Some of these lawyers do not have time to read their casefile that is why they ask for adjournment all the time, but Legal Aid Board is now putting a stop to this because their lawyers do not adjourn cases necessarily.’
The Chairman of the Council of Tribal Headmen in the Western Area, S.O. Gbekie lauded the Legal Aid Board for restoring the dignity of the Council. He lamented how Lawyers had been trying to undermine their authority by interfering in matters brought to them by their tribespeople. He welcomed the idea of training members of the Council as paralegals and mediators.
The Secretary General of the Ordehlay Union, Sulaiman Suntus Kamara spoke on the issue of injustice which he noted is pervasive in society. He called for an end to the ‘legalization of illegality’ and for the government to address issues of illiteracy and drug abuse especially.
The President of the Petty Traders Association, Alhaji Bureh Kamara drew attention to the high number of traders arrested and jailed for very minor offences some of which they did not commit. The President of the Motor Drivers Union, Mr. Bah said more than 120 members of the Union have so far benefited from the Legal Aid Board. He thanked the Board for uniting them with the Petty Traders Association.