Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles left the shores of Sierra Leone on Sunday, June 11 for the United States on the invitation of the President of the United Nations General Assembly.
The United Nations General Assembly will hold high-level debate on the theme: “Equal Access to Justice for All: Advancing Reforms for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies”. The event is convened in accordance with Resolution 77/237 of 15 December 2022, entitled “Strengthening the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme in particular its Technical Cooperation Capacity”.
The high-level debate will be held in person and consist of an opening segment, a high-level segment for interventions from Member States and Observers of the General Assembly, followed by an interactive panel discussion.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles will participate as a panelist among three others in the interactive panel discussion entitled: “Evidence-based Approaches to Ensure Equal Access to Justice for all in Criminal Justice Systems — Centering those facing Structural Barriers” on the 15 June 2023 at 3.00 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
She will focus on how access to justice through the establishment of the Legal Aid Board has benefitted people (citizens and foreigners alike)living in Sierra Leone, the positive impact of the availability and accessibility of legal aid services and how it has improved the lives of people. She will bring a different perspective to the discussion by speaking on legal aid outside the criminal justice system in the traditional justice system presided over by chiefs, tribal authorities, and the innovations in legal aid provision.
Ms. Carlton Hanciles will showcase the work of the Board in establishing offices in 29 cities and towns including in all the sixteen district headquarters in the country and in 13 chiefdom headquarter towns. Moreover, the Board has provided services to 833,927people most indigent persons since its inception in May 2015 to December 2022.
She will reference a research by Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in 2021 which found that the Legal Aid Board has scaled up community-based justice advice and assistance and has done so affordably, reducing unit costs by a factor of at least 5 compared to previous foundation and donor-supported programmes. The research also notes that Sierra Leone’s Legal Aid Board has been consistently handling tens of thousands of cases over the last few years with average unit costs of $22 per client, making the Board one of the low-cost models in the world.
The research further notes that the Board is regarded by the public as the best performing legal institution by far: 47% of the population rate its performance as excellent (with the next best institution only scoring 10%).
Ms. Carlton Hanciles will draw attention to the provision of primary justice services in remote communities by paralegals and how this has transformed and increased access to justice and mitigate abuses people are subjected to by the Local and informal courts.
The latter have no judicial powers. Moreover, these courts are guided by customary law and practice which discriminate against women. These courts do not treat criminal offences such as sexual offences and domestic violence abuse with the seriousness they deserve.
She will also talk about the introduction of Child Maintenance Accounts in July 2021 which have helped to improve the lives of children in terms of their upkeep, education and health. Also, securing court orders for Child Maintenance cases have improved compliance.
Ms. Carlton Hanciles will underline how the introduction of Citizen Advisory Bureaus (CAB) have empowered people to take ownership of their justice needs at community level by handling community level disputes hence providing an alternative to the informal courts by mediating civil matters and referring serious criminal matters to the Police.