The Legal Aid Board has been honoured for presenting its national report at the opening session of the International Legal Aid Conference at the Ottawa Art Gallery in Canada on Monday, 17 June 2019.
The Legal Aid Board is among three legal aid schemes and the only scheme from the continent of Africa to present its national report at the three-day event. The other presenters were from Canada and Japan. The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, David Lametti presented his country’s national report.
The Sierra Leone national report highlights important developments which make the Legal Aid Board stand out on the continent in terms of the specialties in the Sierra Leone Jurisdiction.
Presenting the national report to over 100 legal aid experts including Chief Executive Officers from forty countries, the Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles told her audience that the Board is one of the lead agencies in implementing Goal 16.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals through its work in promoting access to justice in remote communities.
She said that the Board has made giant strides in expanding access to justice through the provision of primary justice services by its Paralegals in every district in the country. These take the form of Alternative Dispute Resolution through Mediation, Legal Empowerment through Community and School Outreach, Referrals and the provision of Advice and Legal Assistance to the administrators and users of the Informal Courts. ‘Through the provision of primary justice services, the Board has ensured women are not disadvantaged in cases of inheritance, maintenance, divorce and property,’ she said.
She added that the Board is the largest legal aid provider in the country. “189,708 people including non-Sierra Leoneans benefitted from the scheme in 2017 and 2018,” she stated adding: “106,655 people benefitted from the scheme in 2018 which is up 23,602 on 2017 when 83,053 people benefitted from the scheme. During the two-year period, 31,965 criminal cases were provided legal representation, 90,044 civil matters were mediated by Adjudicators and Paralegals and 67,699 benefited from legal empowerment through the Community and School Outreach.”
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles noted that the Board has forged partnership with over 300 partner organizations including civil society groups and community based organizations across the country. “This is one of our biggest strengths in terms of provision of information bordering on justice needs in the community, injustices, resources sharing and referrals,” she said.
She added that the Board works with these partners in organizing Community and School outreach to educate people on the laws and legal processes. “The topic for the event is determined by the justice needs of and challenges within the community or school,” she said.
She told the gathering that the Board is responsible for regulating legal aid provision in the country coupled with determining the quality of legal aid provided by legal aid service providers. “Section 9 (2) (b) of the Legal Aid Act 2012 provides that the Board shall ‘accredit persons or bodies to provide legal aid,” the report noted.