The Legal Aid Board has concluded a two-day OSIWA-funded capacity building workshop for 35 paralegals and Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Officers on the Laws and ADR/Mediation mechanisms.
The training took place in the Solidarity Hall of the Sierra Leone Labour Congress at Government Wharf in Freetown.
The training is aimed at capacitating the Board staff on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for effective ADR/Mediation mechanisms, Referral Processes and Procedures; Local Court Act 2011, Local Court Administration and Customary Laws and Practice; Criminal and Civil Law; Gender Laws including the Devolution of Estate Act 2007 and Data Collection.
The participants were drawn from all the 26 offices including the 16 districts headquarter towns.
In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the workshop, Mr. Francis Gabiddon who is a Consultant at the Board, spoke on the work of the ADR Panel in mediating civil, minor criminal matters and community level disputes. He underlined that the Board’s ADR panels are not police stations or courts as such they do not have the power to issue warrants of arrests, detain or imprison anybody.
Mr. Gabiddon stressed that the ADR is a voluntary mediation panel that is cheap, confidential, flexible, speedy (relative to General and traditional courts) and does not involve legal representation even though lawyers can attend as observers. In addition, the Panels can invite witnesses or people to testify in certain matters and also refer matters to the relevant justice institutions such as the police and the courts.
In her statement, the Executive Director of the Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles praised OSIWA for the support which she noted will further develop the capacity of Paralegals and ADR Officers in the provision of primary justice services. ‘We train our Paralegals from time to time and this is why they are making an impact in the communities in terms of the quantity and quality of services they provide which has earned them recognition both locally and internationally,’ she stressed.
Ms. Carlton- Hanciles drew attention to the discrimination against the poor and marginalized in the dispensation of justice which was one of the main causes of the country’s civil war. She added that the enactment of the Legal Aid Act 2012 is in part meant to address this challenge.
She said the Board is one of the two-star institutions showcased by the Government at the United Nations High-Level Forum in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She urged the trainees to always send their reports on a regular basis noting that it is the main way the Board will be able to assess their work.
Resource person, Honourable Justice Manfred Sesay Justice of the Appeals Court spoke on the Local Court Act 2011, Local Court Administration and Customary Law and practice.
He said Local Courts are an extension of the formal justice system and therefore should not be seen as inferior. “The term ‘Local’ does not infer inferiority” he warned. Justice Sesay admonished the trainees not to give instructions to the Local Courts as they are not accountable to them. He warned them against disrupting court proceedings should they have any issues rather they should approach the court administrators in a friendly manner with a view to resolving these issues. He warned that disrupting proceedings could amount to contempt.
He said paralegals and ADR officers intending to withdraw matters from the court should first try to engage both parties in the conflict before going to the court. He further encouraged them to approach the Local Courts in the local language(s) used in their proceedings if they could, which he noted will enhance trust and bond.
He added that those who are always in confrontation with authorities in their localities are not good paralegals, stating that good ones are always able to solve problems. Also, they should always maintain a good relationship with actors in the justice sector and partners of the Board for this is crucial to service delivery.
He warned against participating in proceedings of the Local Court but rather to always take advantage of Section 44 of the Local Court Act 2011 should they want to help mediate or settle disputes out of court.
Magistrate Hadiru Daboh presented a paper on Act No. 32 of the Criminal Procedures Act and also the Larceny Act 1916. He explained the relationship between actus reus and men’s rea which must be proven to secure a conviction. He also explained both minor/misdemeanours and serious/felonious offences relative to the period of detention for suspects investigated for these offences. He underlined that the detention of suspects should not be used for punishment but for purposes of preserving the integrity of the investigations.
He noted that while Paralegal may adjudicate minor criminal cases such as abusive language, provocation, intimidation and public insult they cannot adjudicate others like rape, arson, wounding with intent and murder.
Presentations were also made on Data Collection by Salu Jusu; Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for ADR/Mediation mechanisms, Referral Processes and Procedures by Lawyer Francis Gabiddon, ADR Adjudicator Alghassimu Sesay, Legal Aid Counsel Audrey Williams and Consultant at the Anti- Corruption Corruption (ACC) Patrick Sovie and on the Gender Laws by Mr. Francis Gabiddon.
The session was climaxed with comments, questions and answers following group work in which each group was given a question that relates to ADR/Mediation.