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Welcome Address delivered by the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone at the Certification Ceremony for the Newly Trained Magistrates
By Chief Justice of Sierra Leone
Jan 31, 2006, 13:24
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Welcome Address delivered by the Chief Justice Dr. Ade Renner Thomas at the Certification Ceremony for the Newly Trained Magistrates

My Lords, Your Worships, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Representatives of UNDP and other international organizations here present, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, it is a singular honour to welcome you all to this Certification Ceremony this afternoon.

Today marks a watershed in the history of the Judiciary and a high point of the relationship between the Judiciary, and one of its development partners, the UNDP.

When I assumed Office as Chief Justice in December 2004, I found in existence a very peculiar situation regarding the administration of justice at the magisterial level particularly in the Provinces. Apparently at the end of the civil war in 2001, there were only three locations in the Provinces were Magistrate Courts sittings were still being held. By November 2002 Makeni was added as a fourth location.

In fact, according to the Courts Act No. 32 of 1965, there should be at least one Magistrate Court in each of the 12 Districts of the Provinces.

This paucity of Magistrates Courts at the end of the civil war was due mainly to the destruction of most government buildings and other infrastructure such as Courts and residences of judicial officers and other public servants as well as the mass exodus of Magistrates and other officials of the Judiciary from their posts.

Whereas the problem of the reconstruction and/or refurbishment of court buildings were promptly addressed by DFID and UNAMSIL, it turned out that for various reasons it was not so easy to reassign Magistrates to their former posts or to recruit new ones to replace them.

Because of the urgent need and the importance of reestablishing the rule of law and guaranteeing access to justice in those parts of the Provinces which had suffered most from the anarchy of the civil war, a programme was evolved by the Judiciary in collaboration with UNDP whereby 64 Justices of the Peace who had undergone some basic training organized by the Sierra Leone School Law School were deployed throughout the Provinces by March 2003. The objective was that these JPs, sitting in pairs would hear mostly civil cases thus reducing the work load of the few Magistrates who were left to concentrate on the difficult criminal cases.

Though the JPs were subject to comprehensive monitoring done by a joint team comprising a staff member of the Judiciary, two police officers and two UNDP staff as well as a case reporting and tracking system developed by August 2003 performance by the JPs was irregular and the conclusion was reached that use of JPs could not be a permanent solution to the access to justice problem.

By December 2004 based on the important conclusions reached and experience gained from the experimental JP programme of 2003-2004 I was able to convince the UNDP to shift the main focus of their assistance to the Judiciary from the JPs to the Magistrates outside the Western Area.

It was agreed that UNDP would assist the Judiciary to recruit and train new Magistrates to join existing ones for service outside Freetown. It was agreed by both sides that the recruitment drive would only succeed if existing conditions of service of Magistrates were improved. To support this initiative, UNDP agreed to assist the Judiciary to pay additional salary to both newly recruited and existing Magistrates serving throughout the country and as an additional incentive, to those serving outside the Western Area to pay additional allowances in lieu of free accommodation and transportation. I am pleased to announce that UNDP is committed to sponsoring the construction and furnishing of 12 housing units for Magistrates in the Provinces.

It is not surprising that with such incentives the recruitment drive for new Magistrates turned out to be very successful. By 1 st November 2005, seven new Magistrates had been recruited and were ready to start their training.

The training was again sponsored by UNDP and was organized and conducted under the experience and guidance of Chief Justice Brobbey. It involved very useful theoretical and practical modules and one of its most significant outcome, is the production of training manuals to be used for training of other newly recruited Magistrates in the future but also for the refresher courses for existing Magistrates.

-end-


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