Winifred Hannah Koroma
May 17, 2017
Chairperson of the Legal Aid South Africa, Judge President D. Mlambo has said noted that was impressed with the successes of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board at community level, admitting that it was an area South Africa would need to learn from.
The Judge Mlambo made the above remarks at a meeting with staff of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board and TIMAP for Justice – a local legal aid service provider – at the head office of the Board in Freetown. The Judge was head of a four-person delegation to the country.
Judge Mlambo noted that the scheme in South Africa has achieved a lot in terms of dedicating legal aid in the courts and quality assurance, but at the same time struggling to create impact at community level.
“This is because the Ministry of Justice expects the scheme not to do anything civil,” he said, pointing out that the Legal Aid Act of South Africa allows the scheme to provide legal aid in civil matters.
He said he was surprised to have learnt that local chiefs including Tribal Heads adjudicate or mediate matters in Sierra Leone and at the same time impressed with the relationship between the Board and actors in the justice sector at the informal level.
“In South Africa we are not training people in the community as Paralegals. This is something we need to look at,” the Judge said.
Judge Mlambo underlined the role of civil society in promoting access to justice in South Africa.
“Civil society is the way to go for the continent.”
Speaking on the purpose of the visit, the Learned Judge said they were here to finalize discussions for the conference in Kigali, Rwanda in August, 2017.
Mr. Boroto Ntekobajira of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Office (Nadcao) said the conference would mean to share experiences to strengthen collaboration between the formal and informal justice sector and examine Alternative Justice Initiatives.
He said the vision of the conference would be generating ideas relating to the setting up of an African Centre of Excellence that would benefit legal aid networks on the continent.
He noted that Sierra Leone would be part of five countries that would be steering the conference.
Ms. Vuyiswa Sidzumo of Charles Steward MOTT Foundation said she was impressed with the work of the Board’s Community Advisory Bureaus (CAB), particularly that they are run by volunteers who cater for the justice needs of their respective communities through mediation of civil matters, assistance to those accessing the formal justice system, referrals and legal education.
Executive Director of Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles, gave a brief background of the board, which she said started operations in May, 2015.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said the Board has learnt a lot from the scheme in South Africa through meetings, correspondences and from its website, adding that Professor Macleoid Mason, a South African, contributed to the drafting of the Sierra Leone’s Legal Aid Act 2012.
She added that the Board has offices in eight locations in the country, with sixteen lawyers and forty-one paralegals, adding that the lawyers cover all Magistrate and High Courts in the country.
She cited, as one of their challenges, colonialism which left behind two justice systems – the formal compromising the junior and senior courts of the judicature and the informal presided over by the chiefs, tribal headmen and religious leaders, which is access by majority of the people.
She said the Board was struggling to cope with the huge percentage of the population who qualify for legal aid, coupled with a wide range of ignorance among the population about the formal court system works.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles pointed out that when the Board started operations, the prisons were full and that the situation has not changed to date, noting that the board has provided legal assistance to clients,who have been on remand for between four to ten years.