Sierra Leone: As Legal Aid Board Meets Village Headmen

Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles has rubbished claims that her organisation provides free legal services to persons who have been in and out of prison on multiple occasions, thus creating the incentive for re-offending.

"We have been providing free legal services to accused persons on remand and more than ninety-five percent of those in this category in our Correctional Centres are first-time offenders. As a matter of fact the number of repeated offenders in our Correctional Centres is very small. It is less than five percent," she said. "We have been accused of siding with cliques and other law breakers. Our position on cliques is very clear. Last December we were forced into declaring publicly that we will not use the limited resources at our disposal to defend clique members who as we all know are a lawless bunch of young people who commit crime for fun."

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles made this remark while addressing twelve Village Headmen, Councilors and Civil Society Groups from the Western Area Rural District at an outreach event in the Western Area District Council Hall in Waterloo, Tuesday, 9 April.

In response to a concern raised by Headman of Regent Village, Elenorah Jokomie Metzger, about an ex-convict who is posing a very serious challenge to peace in her community and at the same time bragging about not being afraid of going back to prison should anyone dare to stand in his way, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles dismissed that as empty bluff. "These people are not as strong and rough as they want you to believe. When they come face-to-face with the law they become very timid and submissive," Ms. Carlton-Hanciles noted.

Ms. Metzger revealed there had been misunderstandings between her and a new tribal authority in the Regent village which is creating some tension, and called on Ms. Carlton-Hanciles to look into the issue with a view to ensuring peaceful co-existence in the community.

While responding to criticisms of the police for encouraging criminals and their handling of a domestic violence matter in Benguma, coupled with other cases of murder and rape, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles stressed that her organisation works to promote the Rule of Law and Access to Justice. She urged the local communities to work with the police and local authorities to promote efficient and speedy delivery of justice.

"It is common for you to go from house to house, community to community to complain about the police, but at the same time refuse to go to the police station to lodge a complaint. On the rare occasions you have done so, you refuse to go to court to testify. You create problems for the police, prosecution and for us defending you the poor people," she maintained.

The executive director of the legal Aid Board seized the opportunity to draw attention to the high crime rate in the Waterloo axis. "A lot of crime is being committed in this area. Our findings from the court records show that sexual penetration (rape of children) is very high in Waterloo. Also, Larceny and Child Marriage is a serious problem. You should form a committee to look at these issues," she admonished.

A civil society activist, Sahid Solomon Kabia, called on the Legal Aid Board to help beneficiaries of the scheme and ex-convicts secure a livelihood. "Some of these people get into trouble because they are jobless. Others do while trying to make a living," he said.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles disclosed that the issue of re-integrating ex-convict into society is being discussed with the Sierra Leone Red Cross. "But let me make it clear that when people are released from prison, they are no longer prisoners. They are civilians and therefore part and parcel of the community," she stressed.

Mamudu Dumbuya of York drew attention to the rapid growth in the population of the village and the attendant increase in crime rate. He said there had not been any court sitting in the village since the commissioning of the Magistrate Court.

Councilor Sheikh Ibrahim Conteh said that even though the population of Waterloo and its environs is growing fast, there had not been a proportionate increase in the number of police offices. "In the day time you could have five police at a police post. At night you could have one or two. This poses a serious challenge to the enforcement of law and order," Mr. Conteh said.

Ms. Carlton-Hanclies disclosed plans to open an office and a Citizens Advise Bureau in Waterloo. "The Citizens Advice Bureau will reduce the pressure on police by handling civil matters," she said.

Deputy Chief Administrator of the Western Area Rural Dustrict Council, Peter Koroma, urged participants to make the office their first port of call when they have problems with the police or any other institutions.

Copyright (copyright) 2016 Concord Times.

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