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Special Feature

Legal Aid Board secures discharge and smooth return home for Juvenile Offender

August 18, 2020

The Legal Aid Board secured the discharge of 15 year old Gongofa Marah (not his real name) on the orders of the court on 3 August 2020. He was charged with manslaughter and assault occasioning actual bodily harm

Gongofa his mother Manteh and brother Kallie were arrested in 2017. This follows the death of a sixty-something year old man in a fight between his family and that of the deceased. They were living in the village of Kallamaroh in the Barawa Wallay Chiefdom in the Falaba District at the time of the incident.

Gongofa’s family had come under attack on that fateful day because his brother had married a lady who was considered to be married to a member of the bereaved family. The father of the estranged husband died in the fight after he was hit in the head with an object. Unconfirmed sources say he was mistakenly hit in the head by his own son. While other sources attribute his death to multiple organ failure.   

The accused persons were taken to Kabala, the district headquarter town of Koinadugu since their home district of Falaba had no Magistrate Court. For Gongofa this was the first time he was leaving his home district.  The accused persons were then transferred to the Makeni Correctional Center. This follows the committal of the case against his mother and brother to the High Court in Makeni where both were represented by the Regional Legal Aid Counsel for the North, Ibrahim Samba. 

They made their first appearance before the High Court in Makeni on the 19 July 2019. After series of adjournments, they were discharged on the 16 October 2019. This was after the Legal Aid Counsel, Samba appealed to the court to discharge the matter due to the persistent absence of witnesses. The application was granted. Ironically, the family of the deceased never showed any interest in the matter.

Since Makeni did not have a Juvenile Home and a Magistrate Court for Juvenile matters, Gongofa’s trial only started when he was transferred to the Juvenile Home in Kingtom in Freetown where he was provided immediate legal assistance by the Legal Aid Counsel responsible for Juveniles matters, Ibrahim Bangura. By the way, the Legal Aid Board is the only Legal aid organization in the country with a full-time lawyer responsible for juvenile matters.

Prior to his transfer to Freetown, the Correctional Authorities in Makeni had been under mounting pressure from the Legal Aid Board Office in that part of the country regarding delay in the trial of their client and the unsuitability of the detention facility which does not cater for juvenile offenders. ‘We had given an ultimatum to the Correctional Officers in Makeni to either transfer the juvenile offender to Freetown or put him on bail,’ the Regional Programme Manager for the North, Mohamed Jalloh said.  

The Legal Aid Board office in Makeni referred Gongofa’s case to the Legal Aid Board Office in Freetown once his relocation to Freetown was effected. He met with the Legal Aid Counsel Ibrahim Bangura the following day for briefing, reassurance and psychological support. She assured him that the Board will do everything within its power to ensure he gets justice.  ‘I was happy and relieved to receive a visit from you on the second day of my arrival in Freetown because the Board has cared for me since I got into trouble in my native Falaba District  and they are the only people I know in Freetown,’ Gongofa had said following his meeting with Legal Aid Counsel, Bangura.

Gongofa could speak only Koranko and some Madingo at the time of his arrest. This was a serious challenge for him after he was transferred from Kabala to Makeni and then Freetown. He learned to speak Krio at the Juvenile Home in Freetown out of necessity.

He was discharged by Magistrate Bangura of Court No. 7 because prosecution witnesses had been absent since the inception of the matter. After several adjournments and pleas by the Legal Aid Counsel the matter was discharged on 3 August 2020 pursuant to section 94 of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965.

Under normal circumstances, both parties should part ways at this juncture.  But the Board has always gone the extra mile using its limited resources to facilitate the return of its clients to their home or places of their choosing (including those from Mano River Union countries).  Imagine if the Board had abandoned Gongofa in the courtroom after securing his discharge like private lawyers do. He would have been rendered homeless immediately. The Board has also supported the reintegration of their clients into mainstream society by referring them to partner organizations to assist with skill training, capacity building, accommodation and jobs.

It came as no surprise therefore that the first port of call for Gongofa following his discharge was the Legal Aid Board Head Office in Freetown. He was accompanied to the office by a social worker Abdul Habib Bangura from the Ravera Children’s Rehabilitation Center in Freetown.

The Executive Director of the Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles in her usual briefing assured Gongofa that the Board will continue to look after him until he is fully resettled in his home.

She then instructed the Board’s Paralegals in Falaba District who are funded by MOTT Foundation Mohamed Kamara and Kelie Marah to engage the people and stakeholders in Barawa Wallay Chiefdom, which is Gongofa’s home chiefdom, to gauge public reaction on his planned return and prepare the community for his return. 

The paralegals held series of meetings in Barawa Wallay. The one in the Momoria Section was attended by the Section Chief, Dinke Marah, Town Chief Sheku Kargbo, Youth Chairman Bockarie Koroma and Local Court Chairman Dakuneh Kalma.  Following the positive feedback from these meetings a decision was made to repatriate Gongofa to his home.

Gongofa was accompanied by a social worker Abdul Habib Bangura to Kabala where he was received by the two Paralegals from Falaba District. Gongofa accompanied by the Board’s Paralegals made the 76 mile journey from Kabala to the Falaba District headquarter town of Mongor Bendugu.

On August 6, they set out for the 66 mile journey to Barawa Firawa which is the headquarter town of Barawa Wallay chiefdom where an outreach event held in his honour was climaxed with his handing over to the  Regent Paramount Chief,  Foday Janneh. Among the attendees were Section Chief Abdul Marah, Town Chief Jaccoba Marah, Youth Chairman Balla Musa Marah and the Mammy Queen Manteh Koroma.  Since then, the Paralegals have been monitoring his reintegration into the community and the feedback has been encouraging.

‘I cannot thank our partners, the Traditional Chiefs enough for their cooperation and support in ensuring a smooth return of our client and I am confident they will ensure he is reintegrated into the community,’ Ms. Carlton-Hanciles said. ‘I hope this will help those who criticize us for doing things outside our mandate to understand we’re doing this in good faith and more importantly to help our poor clients. This is why we have spent seven hundred and fifty thousand leones equivalent to seventy-five U.S. dollars to repatriate Gongofa which is not part of our budget.’

With Gongofa’s repatriation down and dusted, his reintegration and rehabilitation is bound to take time.  Gonsofa wants to enroll into an educational institution which is his wish. The Board is therefore calling on partners and well-wishers to assist him realize his dream of having an education. Please feel free to contact the Legal Aid Board if you want to help. 

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