The Legal Aid Board has concluded the third and final phase of the UNDP- funded training of Police Investigators and Prosecutors on the 2018 Bail Regulation. The last training took place at the Kenema District Council Hall in Kenema city on the 19 May 2023.
The trainings were conducted in five locations from three districts: Kenema, Western Rural and Urban districts with Kenema being the last. The project initially targeted the total of 290Police Investigators and Prosecutors from these districts but that number was later increased to 315 as follows: 90 from Waterloo and York Judicial Districts, 180 from Freetown and 45 from Kenema. The increase follows a request from the leadership of the Sierra Leone Police (SLP).
The trainings commenced at Waterloo on Monday,8 May 2023; followed by two others at Kissy on May 10 and 12; one at the Solidarity Hall of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress on May 15; one at Grassfield Community Center at Lumley on May 17 and one in Kenema on May 19 respectively.
The event marks the final phase of the project which benefited the total of 965 Police Investigators and Prosecutors in the country’s sixteen districts.400officers were trained in 2021, 250 in 2022 and315 in 2023.
The first phase of the project targeted eight districts: Moyamba, Bo, Kambia, Port Loko, Kono, Tonkolili, Pujehun and Kailahun while the second phase targeted five districts: Karene, Koinadugu, Falaba, Bombali, and Bonthe.
The trainings were aimed at ensuring uniformity and consistency in the application of bail both by the police and the courts as stipulated in the Regulation.
They were also meant to address abuses and challenges in respect of bail which people face from the time they are arrested by the police until the conclusion of their matters in the courts. The trainings were also aimed at enhancing the capacity of police officers to address injustices and conflicts in communities and also adherence to guidelines to bail application.
The Waterloo training was facilitated Legal Aid Counsel,n Abdulai Sesay, trainings in Freetown were facilitated by Counsels Randy Bangura, Cyril Taylor-Young and Ibrahim Bangura and the one for Kenema by Counsel Patrick Kamara.
In the PowerPoint presentations on the Bail Regulation in the five locations, the facilitators explained the meaning of bail, underlining that it is free and more importantly a right. They emphasized that bail is not meant to punish suspects or accused persons but to ensure smooth and speedy investigations and trials.
They also explained the various types of offences – Indictable or Felony, Summary or Misdemeanor and Arrestable or non-Arrestable, adding that Investigators need to know the elements in the different types of offences to be able proffer the correct charges and also determine the bail conditions. They noted that the purpose of Criminal Law is to protect society by ensuring people respect and obey the laws and not to appease or satisfy victims or complainants.
The facilitators went on to explain the general conditions for assessing bail which are: Necessity, Reasonability, Proportionality and Enforceability. They also explained the importance of granting bail, bail guidelines and the circumstances under which bail may be denied for indictable offences. These include failure to appear in court, committing another offence while on bail, endangering the safety of victims or public and possible interference with witness. They further explained what it means to be a surety and how can one cease being one.
Responding to a question on whether an Investigator ought to inform a complainant before putting a suspect on bail, they answered in a negative noting there is no such law. On the issue relating to police investigators demanding money in exchange for bail, the facilitators said Investigators must always ensure they inform suspects or their sureties on their rights to bail.
The facilitators underlined that bail is free and that the amount stipulated on the bail bond is not meant to be paid before the suspect is put on bail. They went on to add that the only cases or offences the Police or Magistrates are prohibited from granting bail are murder and treason. They challenged the Investigators and Prosecutors to produce evidence or any authority that prohibits them from granting bail to suspects of sexual penetration.
The participants called on the Board to organize similar trainings for their superiors whom they said sometimes manifest special interests in certain matters. They argued that this would make their work easier in terms of interference.
The facilitators admonished the Investigators and Prosecutors to follow the Regulation to the letter, noting that operating as a Police force does not mean one should carry out unlawful orders. They added that justice starts at the police station and as a result Investigators should stop using bail as a means of punishment for suspects or appeasement for victims, complainants, politicians or their superiors.
They condemned long pre-trial detention of suspects as one that has human rights implications and by extension a negative impact on the country’s justice system. Additionally, it is a burden on the economy. They warned that “collecting money from people in exchange for bail is wrong and it is against the fundamental principles of the country’s 1991 Constitution and also the 2018 Bail Regulation.’
The trainings were climaxed with Group Work on key issues on the regulation and presentations interspersed with questions and answers. This was followed by the distribution of copies of the Regulation to the participants.