November 23, 2016 By Patrick Jaiah Kamara
The Legal Aid Board (LAB) of Sierra Leone would soon start to accredit Non-Governmental Organisations that provide legal aid services to the less privilege and other categories of people in the country.
This was disclosed yesterday at a consultative meeting held at the British Council hall in Freetown which attracted representatives from various NGOs that provide legal aid services including the Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organization, National NGO Coordinator in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Correctional Centres and other important stakeholders in the justice sector.
Giving an overview of the board, LAB Executive Director, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles, said Legal Aid Board has been established in about seventeen countries across Africa.
She said the Legal Aid Bill was enacted in 2012,while the board became fully operational in 2015 and that they have aided the release of over 1000 inmates countrywide.
She said NGOs and Community Based Organisations have been providing free legal aid services before the inception of the Board but that there was prudent need for the Board to register and accredit those NGOs, so that clash of interest and clustering on single issue would be avoided.
She noted that legal aid issues were highly political because it touches the livelihood of everybody and that the board’s office was situated within the Ministry of Justice.
She said the need to accredit legal aid providers cannot be over emphasized as over the years, many NGOs solicited funds for certain purposes but normally failed to execute that purpose and that there were many ‘mushroom’ and ‘briefcase’ organisations in the country.
She said there was need for those NGOs to identify themselves with the board so that their areas of operations and categories of persons they worked with could be known.
She noted that the prime motive of setting up the Board was to scale up access to justice across the country but stated that they can’t do it alone when there were already established institutions providing the same services.
National NGO Coordinator in the Ministry of Finanace and Economic Development, Mr. Solomon B.E. Scott, assured LAB that henceforth any NGO working on legal aid issues cannot be registered by the ministry unless it is accredited by the Board.
He also called on donor partners to support LAB as access to justice was one of the causes that led the country into the eleven years civil war.
He consented that there were mushroom NGOs but the ministry was working to eradicate them.
Earlier, the chairperson of the occasion, Madam Memunatu Pratt, who doubles as the Head of Department for Peace and Conflict Department, Fourah Bay College, said LAB deserves to be commended for their work.
She thanked President Koroma for what she described as brilliant move to establish the board so that access to justice can be accelerated in the country,as the prisons have been clustered with inmates that haven’t the resources to hire the service of lawyers.