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July 9, 2015 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

The Board and Management of Legal Aid – a pivotal, fair, humane and efficient criminal justice system that is based on the rule of law – yesterday (Wednesday July 8) engaged and called on lawmakers to be part of the process of rendering legal help to the poor who cannot afford the services of a lawyer when they are in need of one.

In her presentation, the Executive Director of Legal Aid, Claire Carlton Honcles, said the Sierra Leone Parliament passed the Aid Act in May 2012 thus establishing the Aid Board, which is an independent organ with the objective of providing legal aid nationwide.

She said the board’s core functions include the provision of legal information and education, provision of legal advice and legal representation in the court of law, and also the provision of legal aid services to indigents, national awareness raising, public education campaigns, training and building capacity, research surveys, monitoring and evaluation.

She said the mandate of the Aid Board is to provide, administer, coordinate and monitor the provision of legal aid in civil and criminal matters, and that its aim is to create a networking and collaborative organization that is fixable and responsive to eligible low-income individuals and groups and play a lead role in enhancing fair and balanced justice system where people would be able to understand and protect their rights.

Madam Honcles said the board has formed partnerships with various justice departments, including the Sierra Leone Police, the Correctional Services, and the Sierra Leone Bar Association, and that they are also on the move to create partnerships with non-governmental organizations working in areas related to legal aid across the country.

“As a result of the huge number of inmates at the Sierra Leone correctional facilities, the board is presently focusing on inmates including accused persons on remand, those without charge and also those serving sentence that they may want to appeal,” she said. “To prevent misuse of the legal aid services, the Act provides that one must be an indigent in order to be quailed for legal aid.”

She added that the board has put in place certain conditions that will be used to determine persons that qualify for legal aid.

To achieve its objective, she said the board plans to establish regional offices in Bo, Makeni and Kenema which will have [standby] lawyers to attend Magistrate Court sittings and paralegals to attend Local Court matters in all the one hundred and forty-nine (149) chiefdoms.

She further called on parliamentarians from the provinces to inform the local chiefs and their constituents in their respective constituencies about the legal aid.