By Theresa Kef Sesay
Fourteen MOTT funded Paralegals have benefitted from a two day refresher training workshop organized by the Legal Aid Board on the 11-12 March 2020. The Paralegals were drawn from seven districts including the two new districts of Karene and Falaba. Unlike the other districts which have had resident Paralegals since 2016, the new districts had theirs in the third quarter of 2019.
In her opening statement, The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board (LAB), Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles underscored the crucial role of Paralegals in the provision of primary legal aid services more so in remote communities whose inhabitants mostly have access to Local and Informal Courts.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles emphasized that Paralegals should read and understand the laws to be able to do their work effectively. “Where there are no lawyers they should be able to provide advice and legal assistance to people,” she stressed. She urged the Paralegals to be confident and fearless in the discharge of their duties particularly in ensuring that women are not abused or taken advantage of in seeking justice.
She revealed that the Board will be recruiting women volunteers because they better understand the challenges women face in accessing justice particularly in the Local and Traditional Courts which handle customary law matters.
Legal Aid Board Manager, Counsel Cecilia Tucker taught the Paralegals on the difference between misdemeanors also known as petty crimes and felonies also known as serious crimes. She urged them to know the difference between the two so as to avoid coming in conflict with the Police.
She implored the paralegals to have copies of the relevant laws including the Legal Aid Act 2012 noting that it will help them know the mandate of the Board and also the Local Court Act 2011 to know the cases Local Courts can intervene in and fines they can impose.
Ms. Tucker urged them to know how to interact with people, noting that they should be respectful and polite. “Let me emphasize that our services are free,” she averred; noting that paralegals should under no circumstance accept any money from their clients. She called on them to know where and how to do their referrals.
She said they should know and maintain a good relationship with partners of the Board. She reiterated that working at the Board does not confer immunity from prosecution should they fall foul of the law and as a result they should know how to conduct themselves. She added that they maintain a good relationship with the authorities in their areas of operation.
The Legal Aid Board Manager concluded by urging the trainees to always sensitize adult males on sexual offences during community outreach events.
The National Supervisor for the Board, Counsel Mohamed Korie in his presentation taught the trainees on the relevant sections in the Legal Aid Board Act 2012, Devolution of Estate Act 2007, Local Court Act 2011, Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act 2007, Sexual Offence Amendment Act 2019 and Child Rights Act 2007.
He also drew the attention of the Paralegals to Section 14 (2) of the Legal Aid Act 2012 which provides that the Board should have at least one Paralegal in each of the 190 chiefdoms in the country. He averred that despite that provision, the Board can only boast of 42 paralegals prior to the grant from MOTT Foundation. “Paralegals should note that they are there not only to provide legal assistance and legal education to the inhabitants of chiefdoms but to traditional chiefs as well,” he stressed.
He noted that Paralegals can mediate civil matter. However, he warned against getting involved into matter relating to divorce and conveyance because they are not within the purview of the Board.
Counsel Korie also spoke on the need for the paralegals to understand Section 35 of the Legal Aid Act which forbids police officers from obtaining statements or charging indigent suspects to court in the absence of a Legal Aid Provider. He added that the Section further provides that a Magistrate or Judge should advice an accused person who appears to be indigent to contact the Legal Aid Board for free legal representation.
He said that Section 37 of the Legal Aid Act provides for a fine or imprisonment for legal aid providers that demand or request money from their clients, while Section 38 talks about confidentiality between the Legal Aid Provider and the client.
Speaking on the rationale for the enactment of the Devolution of Estate Act 2007, Counsel Korie explained that it was passed into law to help solve issues relating to inheritance more so protect women who are disadvantaged on such matters. He said Section 3 talks about cohabitation, testate, intestate and the right to inheritance; while Section 4 talks about the right to education onto university level for the child of an intestate. Section 8 talks about the distribution of the property of an intestate to his/her surviving spouse, children and family.
Speaking on the Local Court Act 2011, Counsel Korie said it is an extension of the country’s formal justice system albeit at the local level. Therefore anybody who feels dissatisfied with its decision has the right to appeal to the District Appeal/Magistrate Court. He said the court has powers to fine and imprison people found wanting, but that such fine or imprisonment should not exceed fifty thousand Leones or six months respectively.
He acknowledged some problems in the Local Court which include the low level of literacy of some of its officials and non-payment of salaries to some. On the part of the Registration of Customary Marriage and Divorce Act 2007, Counsel Korie delved into the need for the paralegals to understand Section 2 which he said talks about validity of Customary Marriage.
Speaking on the Sexual Offence Amendment Act 2019, Counsel Korie urged the Paralegals to pay close attention to Sections 19 to 33, as well as Sections 23 to 36 of the Child Rights Act which talk about child rights, parental duty and responsibility. He concluded by urging the paralegals to ensure they report on their work because the Board relies on them for their data.
Public Relations Manager of the Board, Mr. Derrick Nat-George, spoke on how Paralegals can use the media to enhance their work. He urged them to always discuss matters first with their Regional Managers before going to the media as the media can make and unmake people and society. “If you want to use the media, ensure you talk to people in your local language, I mean the language that they can understand,” he said.
Mr. Nat-George encouraged them to be thoughtful on how they should use the social media noting that they should be careful of the type of information they post. He concluded by stating that the Board is here to change people and as such its staff should be role models.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Sallu Jusu presented a paper on Data Collection and Reporting. Mr. Jusu took the Paralegals through the various data collection tools used by the Paralegals. This includes the following Forms: ADR/Mediation, Mediation Agreement, ADR Beneficiary Payment, Local/Traditional Court Monitoring, Community Outreach, Referral and Invitation to Respondent.
The Regional Programme Managers Mohamed Jalloh and James Thomas Mafinda explained the success and challenges in the implementation of the project in the first cycle. This includes protecting the rights of women against sexual offences and domestic violence which are treated with the seriousness they deserve under customary law. Also, Inheritance and Property matters are skewed against women and Child and Spousal Maintenance cases.
The training was climaxed with the presentation of two motorbikes one each to the Paralegals from Bumpe Ngao Chiefdom in Bo District and Sandor Chiefdom in Kono District.