July 25, 2017 By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
Legal Aid Board Sierra Leone, with support from UNDP has yesterday commenced five days training workshop at the Atlantic Hall, Stadium Hostels in Freetown, on Alternative Dispute Resolution(ADR).
The workshop which is geared towards enhancing the knowledge and skills of participants in executing their functions as paralegals and other stakeholders in the primary justice system, aims to train people in the use of ADR mechanisms as an alternative to litigation and using effective skill of arbitration, mediation, negotiation and active listening.
Giving an overview of Access to Justice, Legal AID and ADR, Justice Ivan Sesay, said the process was critical to the development of any country’s justice system and that access to Justice was a Key factor that caused the eleven year brutal civil war in the country, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Report.
“Key recommendations of the TRC were that people were not having access to Justice which provoked them into going berserk,” Justice Ivan said.
Justice Sesay continued that access to Justice does not only means fair trials as it encompasses many other things involved in the disposition of legal justice, adding that the Legal Aid Board came into being after the enactment of the Legal Aid Board Act of 2012, to provide quality, accessible, free and legal Aid to the average Sierra Leonean.
He stated that the lots of legal processes involved in both criminal and civil matters sometimes makes it difficult for ordinary citizens to access justice as he puts “the process is cumbersome and sometimes discourage people from taking part in such process.”
He emphasised that most matters taken to court were civil and most times just require informal legal system, citing land cases in which hiring a legal practitioner could be very expensive.
“Legal Aid Board offices are found nationwide for the resolution of disputes for all persons regardless of financial circumstances and it is essential to the social development of the country,” Justice Sesay said.
He highlighted that the right to access justice and the right to free and fair trial are guaranteed under the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, stating that ADR is Key to the rule of law in any country not least Sierra Leone.
Consultant and Head of Department, Peace and Conflict Studies Department, Dr.Memunatu Pratt, during her presentation on Introducing Dispute Resolution Mechanisms, said the method is key in achieving settlement of disputes among members of the society.
She highlighted several dispute resolution methods including avoidance, negotiation, mediation,umbudsperson,peer Review panel,conciliation,concilio-Abitration,Judicial dispute Resolution, amongst a host of others .
Dr. Pratt said in Sierra Leone, the Legal Aid Board (LAB) does formal and Informal negotiations, which, in itself, was geared towards enabling ADR in the country, adding that some of the methods are binding, while others are not.
During his Co -presentation with Dr. Pratt, Francis Gabbidon ,said unlike in the formal courts, parties in a court of arbitration both agree for their cases to be heard by an arbitrator and agree on the Arbitration process.
He highlighted some of the arbitration process involved from case file, arbitration selection process, preliminary hearing and scheduling order, hearing and mediation, amongst others.
He said the above were Key to achieving ADR in informal legal process and posited the benefits in arbitration as it helps in confidentiality, limited discovery, speed, experts neutral ,cost savings ,preservation of business relations, amongst others .
Speaking in one of the sessions, Executive Director for LAB, Fatmata Claire Hanciles said they will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Commercial Fast Track Court to enhance ADR.