May 27, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Chief Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Hon. Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm, Thursday officially launched the Sierra Leone Legal Information Institute (SierraLii) website at Bank of Sierra Leone Complex in Kingtom.
The event was attended by members of the Sierra Leone Bar Association, staff of the Human Rights Commission, journalists and civil society representatives, among others.
In his statement, the Chief Justice said SierraLii was the one of the legacies of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, adding that the essence of the website was to enable primary and secondary legal materials to be easily accessed by the general public.
“Law reporting is part of our profession and the absence of law reporting over the years has led to the delay in the delivery of judgement. Currently, there are over 2,000 legal documents that have been uploaded on the website,” he disclosed. He added that legal information that are uploaded on the website would help the public, journalists, researchers, students, among others, do their work.
He said law books and other legal materials are very expensive, but with the emergence of the website, law students could be able to access materials therein.
He promised to ensure that judges and magistrates get computers and in turn are able to access to SierraLii website for easy delivery of judgement.
Chairperson of the Board of Directors of SierraLii, who also doubles as senior lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication, Fourah Bay College, Mrs. Bernadette Cole, said the launch of the website would enable everyone to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost.
“The Sierra Leone Legal Information Institute was established in 2010 as a legacy project of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, with seed money from the Open Society Foundation. The main purpose of the project was to provide free, unrestricted and unfettered access to primary and secondary legal materials of Sierra Leone by uploading on a dedicated website on the internet,” she revealed.
Madam Cole disclosed that when the Special Court concluded its mandate in 2013, the Court handed over SierraLii to the government of Sierra Leone, adding that to date, the SierraLii website has over 2,000 documents, including judgments and decisions of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, judgements and rulings of the High Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court respectively and legislations from Parliament.
“The benefits to be derived by the sustenance of SierraLii as a major source of legal information are immense and include the satisfaction of public interest in accessing free and unfettered legal information. It will build up jurisprudence and research by providing legal practitioners, academics, local and foreign business men, researchers and students comprehensive and robust legal research facility, thereby promoting governance and the rule of law,” she stated.
She expressed her appreciation to the Open Society Foundation, Africanlii and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) for their support to the project.
OSIWA Country Officer, Joe Pemagbie, said his institution was excited to be part of the project as the website could help improve access to justice in the country.
“Documentation and archives will promote access to justice. Previously researchers were finding it difficult to access legal materials if they do not contact lawyers and that process is very expensive. Now they can do so easily without a cent being paid,” he said.
Representing NAMATI, Lawyer Sokita Conteh said 18 years ago they struggled to access legal information, adding that access to legal information was a right not a privilege.
“The access to legal information is not only important for lawyers but the public as well. The public must know the law, use it and shape their behaviour to the law. We used to say ignorance of the law is no excuse but if there is no access to the law, the people will be ignorant,” maintained.
A representative of the Clerk of Parliament, Dr. Abdul K. M’bawa, pledged Parliament’s support to SierraLii. He said that since the establishment of the initiative, Parliament had availed hard copies of all laws passed since 1960.
“Information is organised knowledge and knowledge is power,” he concluded.