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New project to boost fair sentencing and reduce detentions

July 6, 2015 

Acting Chief Justice of Sierra Leone, Justice Valesius Thomas, on Thursday June 2 launched a two-year project aimed at developing sentencing and bail policies and guidelines at the Bank of Sierra Leone Complex, Kingtom in Freetown.

The project is undertaken in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and funded by the U.S. Department of State with the aim of reducing the number of people detained before trial, and reducing overcrowding in prisons.

The U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone, John Hoover, who joined the acting Chief Justice and the UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. David McLachlan-Karr at the workshop to launch the two year project, said: “The United States is pleased to support and help build more transparent and accountable governance institutions,” adding that: “This programme will help Sierra Leone’s justice system become more transparent, efficient, and fair. As such, it will contribute to the development of rule of law and democracy in Sierra Leone.”

The new bail instruments will involve the creation of guidelines and policies for magistrates and judges regarding when defendants should be detained before trial. The instruments, which are to be rolled out in 2016, will help ensure consistent sentencing across the country, so that justice will be the same everywhere in the country. It will also help make sure people are incarcerated only when absolutely necessary, by providing a clear, consistent set of procedures for all Sierra Leone’s magistrates and judges.

Acting Chief Justice Thomas noted that the US$1.5 million project will greatly enhance the delivery of justice in Sierra Leone. “The sentencing guidelines will provide guidance on general sentencing issues and principles, ensuring that judges and magistrates adopt a uniform approach to sentencing, and guidance on factors to take into account when exercising their discretion in determining the severity or the lightness of the sentence,” Justice Thomas said.

He added: “This support is coming at a time when the Judiciary and justice stakeholders are coming together to collectively address challenges that are facing the whole justice sector in Sierra Leone. The development of sentencing and bail instruments and the implementation of a records management system will be instrumental in strengthening our institutions and is a key priority area of the Judiciary.”

At the launch the UN Resident Coordinator and Resident Representative for UNDP, David McLachlan-Karr, emphasised how important consistent and fair sentencing and bail policies are.

Said Mr. McLachlan-Karr: “We must never forget the human cost of failing to deliver justice. At the moment there are around 3,500 people in detention, of whom around 1600 (60%) have never been convicted of any crime.”

He added: “Each innocent individual who is detained, each individual who is in prison unnecessarily, each individual who has to wait months or years in detention before their case is heard, represents a personal tragedy.”

As noted by Justice Patrick Hamilton, Justice of the Supreme Court, “For far too long, sentencing and bail in general have varied and different in various courts depending on where, when and who is presiding on the case. So for the same crime with similar circumstances, different sentences have been passed. Therefore this new policy will help to unify that.”

UNDP has been supporting the Judiciary and other justice institutions in Sierra Leone improve access to justice for over 7 years, including strengthening the Family Support Unit (FSU) of the Sierra Leone Police, establishing ‘Saturday Courts’ to address sexual and gender based violence cases as well as mobile circuit courts.

More recently, during the EVD epidemic, UNDP has given support to the Correctional Services to prevent Ebola entering the prisons system.

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