Legal Aid opens Port Loko office


October 6, 2016 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma

As part of its mandate to provide legal services to poor people across the country, the Legal Aid Board of Sierra Leone on Tuesday, 4th October, 2016 opened a new regional office in Port Loko District, Northern Sierra Leone.

Speaking at the well-attended ceremony, Executive Director of the Board, Mrs. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles, said the institution was established by an Act of Parliament in 2012 with a mandate to provide accessible, affordable, credible and sustainable legal aid services to indigent persons and for other related matters.
She said part of their mandate was to make sure they provide legal services to people resident in the country, adding that one way they could achieve that mandate was to open regional offices across the country.

She said many people have suffered injustice because they don’t have money to hire a lawyer to represent them in court, adding that the Legal Aid Board was introduced to ensuring that nobody suffers injustice because he or she cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

She further stated that one of the recommendations in the Truth and reconciliation (TRC) report was for the government to strengthen the justice sector, as lack of justice was one of the main causes of the eleven years civil war that claimed thousands of innocent lives.

“Legal Aid Board will provide legal representation to the poor people in the country that are charged to court on particular allegations. But if that accused is found guilty, he would be sentenced and be punished for his crime. We are not here to free criminals but to fight for the innocent,” she underscored.
She added that they also settle differences between communities that are engaged in land dispute and other related matters in the provinces.

In his opening remarks, Chairman of the Port Loko District Council, Ahmed Muniru Fofana, who also chaired the occasion, said he was elated to have attracted such development in the district, which he said has long been awaited.

He said Port Loko is one of the biggest districts in the country with a large population and also the gate way that connects Sierra Leone with the rest of the world.

He noted that prior to opening the office, the board engaged and settled matters between cattle herders and grain farmers in Koya Chiefdom, an indicator that the Board was working.

He added that the Board was not only providing people with legal representation in court but also settling community disputes to maintain peace and order in the country.

Lawyer Mohamed Korie, who is the Board’s lawyer attached to Port Loko and Kambia Districts, disclosed that the district now a magistrate and over five court sitting points in each of the two districts, which he said was helping to fast track justice in those parts of the country.

“The challenges that we are currently facing is that people are accusing us of freeing murderers, armed robbers and criminals in the district. But our motive is to give justice to the poor that cannot afford to hire a lawyer to represent them in court. Injustice was one of the main causes of the war in country,” he said.

He reiterated that the Board was not mandated to free criminals but to ensure that due process was followed and urged the people of Port Loko not to misuse the opportunity.

Delivering his keynote address, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara said democracy and justice in Sierra Leone started right in Port Loko District when one of its fore-fathers, Bai Bureh, stood up to fight against the British that they should not pay any tax because the land belongs to natives.

He said justice was not only for the young, old, rich or poor but for everybody in the country, thus the reason for the establishment of the Legal Aid Board to give free representation to people that cannot afford to pay lawyers to represent them in court.

He assured that as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, his office would continue to work with the Legal Aid Board in ensuring that justice was accessible to everybody in Sierra Leone.

It would be recalled that President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in November 2015 launched the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board at the Miata Conference Hall in Freetown, where he stated that one of his commitments during his re-election campaign was to uphold the rights of every citizen as the constitution guarantees that every accused person should have a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent court.

President Koroma said acknowledged that a major issue that was impeding access to justice was the cost to hire lawyers, which the ordinary man cannot afford.