(The thoughts expressed in this article are purely and entirely the thoughts of the author)
The right to access to justice is one of the fundamental human rights which must be enjoyed by all without any discrimination. It is an established fact that access to justice is a germane component of the rule of law. Access to justice as a fundamental human right can be rendered meaningless if it is not promoted, protected, respected, supported and enforced by government.
I totally and entirely subscribed to the point advanced by the Danish Institute for Human Rights that access to justice can be conceived as both a means and an end to justice. It is a means as it concerns the efficient method of enabling users of justice system to benefit from the end product of justice. Likewise, it can be conceived as an end, in the protection of an individual’s right to justice through ease of access when the need arises.
The lack of access to justice and or the unfair dispensation of justice in any state will ultimately undermine the tenets of good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights.
WHEN A STATE REFUSES TO PERFORM ITS OBLIGATION…
In line with international human rights principle, member states to human rights treaties have the obligation to‘respect, protect, and fulfil’ provisions of that human rights treaties/instruments they have signed. When a state refuses to perform its obligation to ‘respect, protect and fulfil’ human rights, it may condescend in violating the rights of its citizen. Essentially, by law and practice the application of these minimum core obligations is incumbent upon every state party.
PRE-TRIAL AND TRIAL STAGES IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Normally,in the criminal justice system pre-trial stage is where investigation is conducted in other to gather credible evidence that will link the suspect (if it is a police investigation) and accused (if it is a preliminary investigation at the Magistrate court), with the alleged crime committed. In other words, the investigation is a way of establishing a fact that a crime has been committed, and the direction of the investigation should be “identifying party/parties to the crime/offence committed”. trial stage is where available evidence is presented to the courts. If the evidence is not sufficient enough to convict the accused, he/she will be acquitted and discharged. But if the evidence before the court is quite sufficient enough to link the accused with the alleged crime committed, the accused will be convicted. Essentially, during court proceedings, if an accused is guilty of committing an offence, he would be convicted and/or fine, but if he is not, by law he would be acquitted and discharged.
POST-CONVICTION STAGE IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Post-conviction stage in the criminal justice system is very essential, and it involves sentencing. In sentencing generally, the defendant is brought before the court for the imposition of a penalty. When an accused and or defendant are convicted in a criminal prosecution, the event that follows the verdict is called sentencing. Sentence can be seen as the penalty ordered against the convicted criminal by the court. Normally, the primary goals of sentencing convicted criminals are punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation.
Generally, the object of criminal law is punishment, and all of the serious crimes or offences committed by offenders or criminals have the penalty of serving prison sentences. Also, most of the offences or crimes committed by offenders or criminals with the exception of the most serious have the option of fines.In criminal proceedings, sentences are an essential aspect of the criminal law. It is implied, if the offender cannot meet the financial demand of the outcome of the criminal proceedings, that is to pay fine, the result is incarceration. One major challenge I have observed with regards the laws of Sierra Leone is that most criminal laws are seriously out-dated. Most of these out-dated laws are based on British colonial laws that have long been repealed in Britain. For instance, Sierra Leone still applies laws like: the Offence against the Persons Act, 1861, the Public Order Act, 1965 and host of others. The need for these laws to be repealed and replace with laws that can match-up with global trend and human rights based approach cannot be over emphasised.
“ARREST, DETENTION, CHARGE, PROMPTLY, WITHOUT UNDUE DELAY…”
Another challenge I had personally noticedin the criminal justice system is the use of terminologies which have not been clearly defined by my estimation and whose applications have been very much problematic. Words such as ‘ arrest’ ‘detention’, ‘charge’, ‘promptly’, ‘without undue delay’, or ‘adequate time and facilities’, these words are inevitably broadly framed, and this means that there is scope for legitimate disagreement as to precisely what they mean. Due to the fact that there is no statutory definition of those words, any of them can be interpreted differently by the court based on the context of the case. However, there are widely recognized international human rights documents, which proffer standard as to how persons held in custody should be treated. The ineffective application of these human rights documents to which Sierra Leone is a signatory to, has brought to day light the problems faced by suspect at the pre-trial stage of criminal proceedings in Sierra Leone.