From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, First Public Defendersí Office Commissioned
By Bampia Bundu
Aug 11, 2010, 17:16

The Government of Sierra Leone under His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma and the Justice Sector Development Programme, through the British Council and DFID has officially commissioned Sierra Leoneís first public defendersí office, a Pilot National Legal Aid with its own office on the 4th¬†Floor of the Ministerial Building, George Street in Freetown. This was disclosed in a press release issued on the 6th¬†August 2010.

A major impediment to access to justice in Sierra Leone and a major cause of the delays in justice is the fact that very few people have access to legal advice on their problems or even worse, access to legal representation in court, especially in the criminal justice system.

According to the release, majority of people held in prisons are due to lack of financial resources, or had no access to a lawyer or legal advice and assistance at any stage of their court proceedings. In January 6th 2010 the Pilot National Legal Aid (PNLA) commenced operations in Freetown out of a small office at the British Council. President Ernest Bai Koroma, through the Information and Communications Minister, formally launched the scheme on April 22nd 2010; to which the Government has now allocated permanent office space at Ministerial Building, George Street.

The release states that government is focused on establishing an independent, sustainable, affordable, credible and accessible national legal aid scheme for Sierra Leonean citizens who cannot afford to pay for the services of a lawyer. The National Legal Aid Bill was set to roll out access to justice throughout the various districts in the country, as it is now in the hands of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, for forwarding to Parliament.

To date the release continues, PNLA has provided free legal representation or advice and assistance in over 900 matters in the courts, prison, remand home and police stations of Freetown, utilizing the services of lawyers and paralegals. Persons in conflict with the criminal justice system may contact PNLA at the Court, Prison, Remand Homes and police stations or may walk in to the office at George Street.

The Pilot National Legal Aid is committed to helping the poor and vulnerable in our society who without intervention are often left languishing as victims of our criminal justice system.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.