‘On behalf of the Legal Aid Board and our partners in the justice sector, I formally open the Community Advisory Bureau.’ With these words the Executive Director of the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles gave the green light to four bureaus in the Wellington and Calaba Town Community in the East of the capital Freetown to start operations with immediate effect.
This follows the training of eighty volunteers by the Board at the Pamronkoh Community Center in Calaba Town on Tuesday, 28 February 2017.
The Bureaus are located in Ward 346 covering Pamronkoh, Mayenkini and Robis;Ward 348covering Old Wharf, New Town and Alpha Terrace; Ward 349 covering Pa Morlai Field and YDM and Ward 352 covering Melon, Caulker, Beecle and Philip Street. The Wards are in constituencies 96, 97 and 98.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles likened the volunteers to Magistrates and Judges who will be mediating non-criminal matters in order to cut down on unnecessary cases in the police and the courts.
She told the volunteers that they should ensure justice comes right down to the community and not remain in the courts and police stations. He noted that there are law and orders issues in the community becausegood people who are in majority have failed to stand up and do something about it.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles impressed on the volunteers to undertake fundraising activities to sustain the Bureaus. ‘You should organize football matches and approach local businesses to raise funds,’ she said. ‘They will provide supportif the Bureauis relevant to the community.
She assured that the Board will assist withfundraising by talking to donors and big organizations on their behalf. ‘We will bring some of them to your Bureau to see what you are doing,’ she said.‘In the future we will lobby Government and the Councils to support you.’
She urged the volunteers to refer cases which do not fall within their remit to relevant institutions like the police, courts, government ministries and agenciesand the Board. She encouraged them to refer land cases to the Board where they could be resolved through the Ministryof Lands.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles took time to share experience on some of the matters they will be mediating. On the contentious issue of inheritance, she said the law is clear on how property should be shared. She noted that in the case where the husband is deceased, the property should go to the wife and the children and not the relatives of the deceased.
On the other hand, if the husband and wifeare deceased and do not have children, the property should be shared equally between therelatives of both the deceased. Also, when a property is inherited by a family or a group, no single individual can claim exclusive right to it.
She encouraged volunteers to exercise caution when handling disputes between husband and wife because the outcome could have repercussions for the children. She said some of the cases have to do with the wife withholding sex as a result of the failure of the husband to provide food for the family.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles urged the volunteers to take proactive steps to prevent law and orders issues through legal education to schools and communities. ‘You should engage the imams and pastors to pass messages to the community.’
She noted that domestic violence is a serious problem in the community which the Bureaus should take head on by ensuring the victims including men have the confidence to speak out and seek help.
She told the volunteers to work towards ensuring a peaceful election rather than wait to mediate matters relating to election violence. She added that the volunteers should target violent prone communities and people for legal education.
‘You know those who perpetrate violence in the communities,’ she said. ‘You also know communities which are hotbed for violent activities. You should let people know that they can belong to the same tribe, family, community, club or religion and support different political parties and at the same time live in peace.’
Papers were presented by staff of the Board. The Registrar, Joseph Dumbuya presented a paper on the relationship between the Bureau and legal Aid providers. He underlined the need for collaboration and sharing of resources to create maximum impact in the community.
The Community Affairs Officer, Ben Turay explained the Bye-Laws for the Bureaus. This includes roles and responsibilities, membership of the Bureau and funding.
The Public Relations Officer, Derek Nat-George presented a paper on the relationship between the Bureau and the Media. He shared experience on how to communicate information and grant interviews with the media.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, SaluJusu talked the participants through Documentation and Reporting procedures. He said documentation will provide an insight into the number and types of complaints, complaints resolved and referrals. He took time to explain how to fill the General Referral and Maintenance Agreement Forms.
The Outreach Officer, Ibrahim Kamara spoke of the other services that will be provided by the Bureaus. These include an Employment Information Desk and anInformation Board. The Desk will work closely with the Ministry of Labour to provide information on job opportunities in and outside the community.
The Board will also work with the Ministry of Information to provide relevant information on issues relevant to the community. It will also work with the Ministry of Youth Affairs to provide internship placement for young people.
Other speakers include the Officer Commanding for the Calaba Town Police Station, Assistant Superintendent MemunatuSamura. She noted that she believes in community policing and as such hasvisited and maintained a close relationship with all the communities in her operational areas. ‘We cannot police Calaba Town on our own, we need to have the communities onboard,’ she said. She noted that if people want to work with the police, they should be ready to expose bad people even those close to them.
The Councilor of Ward 346, Mary Kamara said Calaba Town was among the first communities to benefit from the Board which resulted in the release of 18 of their children who were arrested by the police and remanded at the Pademba Road Correctional Center.
The Temne Tribal Head, Ya Alimamy Isha Sesay said she only mediate matters which fall within her purview and had challenged lawyers who had attempted to interfered with her work. She encourage the volunteers to seek the truth. She noted that she has succeeded in reconciling his subjects because she is guided by for the truth.
Henry Kassim, Chair, National Opinion Pool under the Tumac Radio reminded her audience that Foday Sankoh took up arms against the state because of an injustice he suffered. He noted that, if we fail to address injustices in our society, many Foday Sankohs will emerge. ‘The Bureau is an attempt to address injustice,’ he said.
He had this to say to the volunteers: ‘If you do things for nothing, you will get thingsdone for nothing.’He noted that the Bureaus will address the issues of exploitation of people by some local chiefs. ‘‘Some of them charge for everything even to take your seat in their ‘court’,’’ he said. ‘The Bureau will put a stop to this.’