By Amin Kef (Ranger)
The Sierra Leone Bar Association has on the 7th June, 2023 handed over a renovated dormitory and as well presented capacity building resources materials for detainees of the Remand Home at Kingtom in Freetown. Present during the event were a cross section of members of Sierra Leone Bar Association, the Director of Public Prosecution, the Officer in Charge of the Remand Home, representatives of Marampa Mines, UBA and ECO Bank, a representative of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Caregivers, well wishers and the inmates.
In his welcome address, the Vice President of the Bar Association, Sidique Tommy, thanked all for attending what he referred to as an historic event. He disclosed that the event is a culmination of efforts started a month ago . He said as an Association their primary focus is to champion and further the interests of lawyers adding that they also promote the rule of law as well as represent their clients in courts. The Vice President continued that they are not only limited to further the interests of lawyers but are also engaged in charitable endeavours by giving back to society.
“The event we are all gathered here to witness is a testament to that charitable work,” he stated furthering that as lawyers they strongly believe that juveniles should have right to legal representation. He, however, lamented that in practice that is not always the case as there is a huge shortage of legal representation for juveniles maintaining that although NGOs intervene such is not enough which makes it necessary for lawyers to be providing pro bono services.
He talked about the need for the Police and Correctional Service personnel to be trained in order to be aware of the fact that detention centres are meant to reform or transform inmates saying that could be achieved by providing opportunities for inmates to acquire useful skills through training or availing them the opportunity to attain formal education.
Sidique Tommy informed the audience that they are determined to change that notion of detention centres being dumping grounds. He underscored how inmates have rights to restorative justice saying as Lawyers they are trying to bridge that gap. He appealed to other entities or individuals to come onboard and extend helping hands.
The Vice President said strides have been made to improve the criminal legal system but much need to be done to improve the dormitories at the Remand Home.
President of the Bar Association, Eddinia Michaela Swallow, thanked all sponsors of their past fund raising activities. She intimated that the Bar Association has been engaged in charitable work for quite a considerable period of time now referencing the Regent mudslide and COVID-19 supports they provided during those critical moments further appealing to members to actively participate in making meaningful changes in society.
Eddinia Michaela Swallow disclosed that initially the Bar Association thought of offering the Remand Home sewing machines for inmates to learn sewing. She said, however, when they conducted a needs assessment they were informed that it will be necessary if they could assist in rehabilitating the dormitories adding that they committed themselves to start with one dormitory and then encourage members of the Association to adopt a dormitory for rehabilitation.
The President also revealed how the Association repaired the Home’s gate to one which is now a sliding gate very much stronger than the previous one saying such has enhanced security.
She also disclosed how they have provided support to a new Unit at the remand Home which is to be involved in gara tie dying. “It is important that the inmates learn something that would make a difference in their lives later on,” she maintained reiterating that to change the narrative they believe that capacity building is necessary.
The Bar Association President said they will continue with the Dems Project for Boys further appealing to lawyers to provide pro bono representation for detainees.
“Embrace the project as yours,” she made a passionate appeal adding that the Association has contacted various Chambers maintaining that the feedback has been encouraging.
She ended by introducing the Project Coordinator, Yoko Mahiteh Brewah Esq.
Treasurer of the Bar Association, Matina Egbenda stated that the Remand Home Project is an ongoing one with funds needed. She disclosed that in 2022 the idea came up and they lobbied for support which came from certain corporate institutions of which the proceeds were utilized to fund the project and appealed to her colleagues to adopt and support a dormitory. She thanked Marampa Mines, UBA and ECO Bank for their support adding that there are so many things members could do.
A representative of Marampa Mines, Joseph Munda Sandi, thanked the Bar Association for taking up the laudable venture geared towards improving the welfare of inmates. He said Marampa Mines is a subsidiary of Gerald Group and they are involved in iron ore mining. He said they were excited about the initiative and other activities undertaken by the Bar Association and assured that they will continue to provide support and ended up encouraging the lawyers to continue the good work.
Another representative of UBA, one of their sponsors, Yusuf Ahmed Sesay, Acting Head of Corporate Banking, said they are proud to be a sponsor of the initiative. He said indeed the inmates deserve humane treatment as such will contribute to a just society adding that they are looking forward to the positive impact that the project will make.
In his contribution, the representative from ECO Bank, another sponsor, Leonard Taylor Pearce, said on behalf of the Board and Management he is extending thanks and appreciation to the Bar Association for utilizing funds judiciously. He said they cherish the venture and will like to continue to support it. He suggested that the inmates, after completing their detention, should be properly integrated.
Leonard said they will continue to partner with the Bar to positively impact the lives of people and assured them of continued support.
Officer in Charge of the Remand Home, Allieu Gormoh , expressed profound thanks and appreciation to the Bar Association for the support they have rendered. He said the Remand Home is a temporary abode for kids who are in conflict with the law and is managed by the Ministry of Social Welfare. Allieu disclosed that security is provided by the Police and Correctional Officers convey the inmates to courts. He profusely thanked members of the Bar for fixing the gate which he said has greatly improved security at the Home.
Highlighting some of the challenges the Remand Home is grappling with, he mentioned need of a standby generator, legal representation for inmates, learning materials , used clothing etc.
In stating what they she would like to become in the future, one of the female inmates said she wants to do tailoring were as the male inmate expressed his wish of becoming a lawyer.
The highpoint of the event was the handing over of the materials needed to start the gara tie dying training for the inmates by the President of the Bar Association, Eddinia Michaela Swallow, after which a conducted tour was done on the facility and to especially see the work done so far during which the Director of Public Prosecution, Easmon Ngakui, cut the ribbon for the opening of the refurbished dormitory.