OCTOBER 29, 2014 By Ibrahim Tarawallie
Lack of court interpreters in Magistrates and High Courts was a fundamental problem encountered by members of the public seeking redress or in conflict with the law, according to the 2013 State of Human Rights in Sierra Leone report.
The report, which was launched last Thursday (October 23) and presented to President Ernest Bai Koroma at State House by the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRC-SL), stated that many accused persons and complainants many a times do not understand the legal language used in the courts.
“Stringent bail conditions continued to pose a major challenge. Denial of bail applications by presiding magistrates particularly for minor cases was observed. This has led to overcrowding of prison facilities and violates the right of citizens to fair trial,” the report stated.
It further noted that in November 2013, the HRC-SL found 618 detainees on remand at the Freetown central prison awaiting trial, some of whom had already spent four or more years in jail.
The report urged the judiciary to improve on its court sittings, prescribe reasonable bail conditions to reduce overcrowding in detention facilities and for court interpreters to be trained to facilitate communication in court to enhance understanding of legal proceedings of cases by both complainants and accused persons.
“The judiciary and the General Legal Council should take appropriate measures against lawyers who persistently fail to represent their clients in court,” the report recommended.
Also, the HRC-SL noted a 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.
However, the judiciary received commendation from the Commission for recruiting new magistrates and extending circuit courts in Kamakwei, Mile 91, Lungi, Masiaka and Lunsar, even though many people in the rural areas still cannot access the formal justice system.
During their engagement with the HRC-SL on Monday (October 27), a representative from the judiciary, Mohamed Samura, welcomed the report and assured that recommendations therein would be fully implemented.