June 22, 2015 By Victoria Saffa
Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (CARL) and justice partners across the country have called on the government of Sierra Leone to spearhead major reforms in the justice system.
The rights groups have narrowed their searchlight on the justice sector thanks to support from the Access to Security and Justice Programme (ASJP).
Executive Director of CARL, Ibrahim Tommy, acknowledged that great efforts and resources have been provided by the government of Sierra Leone and international partners in the justice sector, adding that the right to fair trial is a basic and significant foundation of the rule of law, and that all persons should be protected from the illegal and arbitrary deprivation of their rights.
Mr. Tommy noted that the rights and liberties of Sierra Leoneans have been adversely affected as many people continue to undergo immense pain and frustration as a result of current challenges affecting the justice system, adding that the courts are overwhelmed with litigations which far exceed the resources and personnel available to the justice system, thus compromising the latter’s ability to manage cases efficiently.
CARL’s Executive Director further maintained that correctional centres across the country are overcrowded, citing the Kenema Correctional Centre, which he said was built for 150 inmates but currently holds about 228 inmates, while about 145 pre-trial detainees await their trials.
He said the main correctional centre in Freetown was originally constructed for 324 inmates, although it currently holds about 1,052 inmates.
He maintained that Sierra Leone’s 2015 budget disproportionately allocates more financial resources to other arms of government instead of the judiciary, which he noted was invariably negative and affects its capacity to deliver quality justice to the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans.
He said trials take too long a period to decide and that a great deal of time is spent by the court registry and the Law Officers Department to process cases, thus delaying trials and keeping the accused in prolonged pre-trial detention.
“We call upon the state to provide more financial and technical support to the judiciary to have the operational capacity to deal more effectively with emerging security and justice challenges within the rule of law, and address the serious human resources and logistical challenges that confront the institution,” Tommy urged.
He concluded that the government needs to recruit, maintain and deploy more state counsels to prosecute criminal matters, as well as provide professional support to all district courts with a view to supporting the expeditious trial of cases in a bid to help reduce the number of inmates in correctional centres across the country.