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HRC 2014 report reveals…

Bail denial causes overcrowding in prisons

September 29, 2015 By Ibrahim Tarawallie

The 2014 State of Human Rights report in Sierra Leone has revealed that the denial of bail applications by presiding magistrates, particularly for minor cases, is the cause of overcrowding in correctional centres, and violates the right of citizens to fair trial.

The report, which was prepared by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and presented to President Ernest Bai Koroma last Wednesday, states that stringent bail conditions continue to pose a major challenge in the administration of justice.

“In November [2014], the Commission found 618 detainees on remand at the Freetown Central Prison awaiting trial, some of whom had already spent four or more years,” the report states and urged the Judiciary to improve on court sittings and that reasonable bail conditions should be prescribed to reduce overcrowding in detention facilities.

The steady increase in the number of remand and trial detainees nationwide due to prolonged delays in trials caused by frequent adjournments of cases, and delays in preparing indictments for High Court trials, among others, was also highlighted in the report.

The report further indicates that the lack of court interpreters in the Magistrate and High Courts was a fundamental problem encountered by the general public seeking redress or in conflict with the law, while many accused persons and complainants sometimes do not understand legalese spoken in the courts.

The Judiciary was urged to train court interpreters to facilitate communication in courts and to enhance understanding of legal proceedings by both complainants and accused persons.

While welcoming the commencement of the implementation of the Local Court Act of 2011, which now puts local courts fully under the control and supervision of the Judiciary, the HRC-SL expressed concern that Local Court Chairmen and Native Administration Police complained about the non-payment of salaries, citing Pujehun and Bonthe districts where Local Court Chairmen complained that they had not received salary for six months.

“The imposition of heavy and disproportionate fines by Court Chairmen, lack of understanding to interpret provisions in the various Acts such as the Devolution of Estate, Customary Marriage and the Local Courts Acts, are still major challenges within the Local Court system,” the report notes.

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