The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) wrapped up a five-day assessment mission to Sierra Leone on Friday, May 18 with a commitment to strengthen the Legal Aid Board to focus on strategy and coordination of legal aid provision. This includes setting standards and developing the code of ethics for the Legal Aid System.

 During the debriefing with staff of the Legal Aid Board, the Consultant for the Mission, Ms. Monica Rispo stressed the need for a Legal Aid Strategy which among other things spells out the functions of all the actors - including state and non-state legal aid organizations - in the provision of legal aid.

Ms. Rispo underlined the need for capacity-building for legal aid organizations and justice sector institutions. She also stressed the need for trainings for legal aid providers especially lawyers and paralegals. She emphasized that these trainings should address the needs of women because the project is aimed at improving access to the justice system for women. Ms. Rispo said the Legal Aid Board should be strategically placed to provide leadership in these areas.

Another important component of the project, she noted, includes raising awareness on the rights of women. She thinks this should include a law on female Genital Mutilation.

The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles spoke of ongoing efforts at compiling a data base of legal aid organizations, Lawyers and Paralegals through mapping and accreditation.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles expressed willingness to work with UNODC to improve the delivery and quality of legal aid. In the area of training, she said, the Board has developed a Training Manual for Paralegals. In addition, the Board will be working with relevant institutions to develop a curriculum for Paralegal studies.  Also, in future the Judicial Training Institute and the university will introduce courses in Paralegal studies.

The assessment team was in the country from 16 to 18 May 2018. The Team met with the Chief Justice, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Registrar of the High Court, 50/50 Group, Women’s Forum, Legal Access through Women Yearning for Equality Rights and Social Justice (LAWYERS), Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), Justice Sector Coordination Office (JSCO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women,  The Sierra Leone Police, Sierra Leone Correctional Service, Court Chairman for Court No.1 in the Bombali Shebora Chiefdom and legal aid organizations in the Western Area and Makeni.