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Legal Aid to open Citizens’ Bureau at Fourah Bay

December 15, 2015

The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Mrs. Claire Carlton-Hanciles, has told members of the Fourah Bay Community that her organization will open a Citizens’ Advice Bureau to advice people on a host of issues and do referrals to the Ministries of Labour and Industrial Relations, and Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Anti-Corruption Commission, Office of the Ombudsman and the Legal Aid Board as the case may be.

The disclosure was made at an outreach event at the Fourah Bay Field on Saturday, 12 December 2015 after the community leaders disclosed they have not forgiven the police for the highhanded response to a recent football match which ended in violence.

“The Bureau will advice you on issues relating to unlawful dismissal, tenants and landlords, domestic violence, family issues, support for school children at the verge of dropping out of school and other minor issues,” Mrs. Carlton-Hanciles noted.

Additional plans for the community will include the recruiting and training of Paralegals from the community to provide legal advice, monitor police stations and the Courts and engage in civic education.

“The Paralegals will assist in promoting justice in the community so as to avert the ugly incident we had recently which saw a breakdown in law and order at the end of a football match,” she added.

The Legal Aid Board Executive Director spent time to educate the people on the mandate of the Board and also gave updates on its activities since May 2015 when it started operation. She spoke on efforts at both national and international level to have the government establish the Board to ensure poor people like them are not disadvantaged in accessing justice.

She also drew attention to the fact that while the police investigate, charge and prosecute cases in the Magistrate Court and State Counsels prosecute those in the High Court, those who are poor and cannot afford a lawyer to defend them have been suffering in silent. “The Legal Aid Board is here to correct this anomaly and protect people like you,” Mrs. Carlton-Hanciles stressed.

She also spoke on human rights issues around chronic overcrowding at the Pademba Road Correctional Center. She noted that the Board is providing legal services to over 500 cases in the September Session of the High Court. Also, the Board is working with the Office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to seek justice for 326 cases, some of who have been on remand since 2006.

“We have six in-house and 26 contracted lawyers to service our clients. So far, we have secured the release of 78 accused persons since the commencement of the September Session of the High Court,” she disclosed.

As part of the Alternative Dispute Resolution initiative of the Board, Mrs. Carlton-Hanciles called on the Fourah Bay Community to let bygones be bygones and work with the police for the peace and security of the community.

The community leaders had castigated the police for always picking on the community and were particularly furious at the decision to detain for three days one of the community leaders who had gone to the Ross Road Police Station to deliver a letter on the recent violence on the instructions of the community.

The community leaders blamed the violence on outsiders which they said took place at the Dan Street area an hour after the match. They described the community as one that is peaceful and prides itself with settling matters within the community and resorting to the Courts for those they cannot resolve.

However, the chairman of the event, Alhaji Muctarr Williams, sounded a reconciliatory note saying the community will welcome mediation from the Legal Aid Board to have the matter resolved.

Mrs. Carlton-Hanciles stressed the need for the community to be at peace with the police. “I understand how you are feeling regarding the manner the police handled the violence in the community but I want you to let bygones be bygones,” she urged. “The police need your cooperation for you to enjoy peace and security. Where there is a right there is a duty. If this matter is not resolved people will become future clients of the Legal Aid Board and we do not want that to happen.”

She told the community people to bear in mind that investigations are a complex business more so those relating to violence. “Many a time innocent people suffer before the investigations are complete through no fault of the police. Unfortunately these things do happen,” she said.

She noted that the Board cannot afford to provide a lawyer for everybody, for which they are embarking on legal education through outreach because it is cheap.

“We will step up our outreach programmes in the new year. We will visit your mosques and churches with our messages,” she noted. “When the suspension of your league is lifted, which I will speak to the community leaders about, we would welcome the idea of speaking to the teams.”

Earlier on the Head of Community Relations in the Sierra Leone Police, Assistant Superintendent Bangura said they are not happy to have people sent to prison but have a duty to enforce the law so that people can live in peace. He reminded the people that the police officers come from the community and assured them that they will always ensure they are safe as they go about their normal business.

He spoke of the threat to security by mushrooming cliques and ghettoes. Some of the ghettoes, he noted, are used as brothels to abuse women. He appealed to the community to help the police by not harbouring criminals and bad people.