The Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law on 26th May, 2022 organized a day-long training for Court Monitors at the SLAJ Headquarters in Freetown. The training was arranged as part of a UNDP-funded project that seeks to strengthen the rule of law, security and human rights in Sierra Leone.
The Monitors, who are currently assigned to cover criminal proceedings before Magistrate Courts in every district across the country, will primarily focus on collecting data on how Magistrates deal with the issue of bail in all the Magistrate Courts in the provinces and seven other courts in Freetown.
With the use of the Kobo Collect mobile application, the Monitors will collect data on whether Magistrates comply with the guidelines in the Bail Regulations of 2018 when considering the issue of bail. The Bail Regulations 2018 are meant to guide Judges, Magistrates, judicial officers and the police in the application of bail provisions in the Criminal Procedure Act 1965. The Monitors will collect data on issues relating to the conditions on which bail was granted, reasons for refusing bail and the nature of the offence(s), length of time that the accused has been detained, number of adjournments in each case, and whether the police opposed bail applications in writing as per the Regulations, among others.
Since 2019, the UNDP (mainly through funding from the US State Department and the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs) has supported CARL and its partners to monitor and generate data on the progress and challenges associated with the implementation of the Bail Regulations 2018 and the criminal trials before the Magistrate Courts in general.
In 2019, CARL monitored a total number of 5,096 cases, and our data showed that there was only 47.1% compliance with the Bail Regulations. The data also showed that the level of compliance with the Regulations in the provinces was better than in the Western Area. In 2021, we also monitored a total number of 2,216 cases, and our data showed that the compliance rate had dropped to 35%. In 2022, we plan to monitor at least 6,000 cases.
The data generated so far suggests that whilst many Magistrates are now more willing to grant bail in respect of minor offences, there is evidence of poor exercise of discretion by many Magistrates when dealing with bail and limited knowledge among police prosecutors (especially in the provinces) regarding the key guidelines in the Bail Regulations 2018.