The Sierra Leone Judiciary is at a crossroads as to which way to go in reforming an arm of government many in the country think is too pliable to any regime in power, while failing spectacularly to deliver justice to thousands of poor people on time.
But with a new Chief Justice at the helm of affairs, there have been efforts to change public perception and bring about long needed reforms in the justice sector.
Yesterday, at the Bintumani Hotel in Aberdeen, Freetown, Chief Justice Abdulai Hamid Cham said the intent was to use the judicial conference as a key tool to formalise a five year blueprint to reform the judiciary.
Hon. Justice Cham, told the eminent participants, numbered in excess of 150, including Judges, Magistrates, Judicial Officers, Law Officers, Private Legal Practitioners, Police Officers, Correctional Officers and Civil Society partners that the reform process would foster enhanced service delivery, which is crucial, some 14 years after an 11 years civil war fought partly because of flagrant denial of justice to the citizenry. He noted that like many other institutions, the judiciary was adversely affected by the civil war and that the institution continues to struggle to attract adequate government funding to date, while public perception of the sector is at an all time low.
He noted that in recent times they have attracted support from international partners, particularly the UK government through DFID-ASJP, which provided funding for the construction of Police Stations and courts nationwide, including two Magistrates’ Court on Ross Road and Pademba Road in the capital, Freetown.
The Chief Justice also underscored that several new laws have been enacted, such including the Legal Aid Act of 2012, which provides national legal aid for indigent persons, the Local Courts Act of 2011, and Sexual Offences Act of 2012.
He told the eminent gathering, which also had members from the Judiciary in Ghana, that: “My expectation is that after the conference, tactical recommendations will be made to guide us with direction, and it will be vital for the strategic plan of 2016-2021 and presentation on court management, judicial training and continuing professional development and issues and options in judicial service delivery in Sierra Leone.”
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, who stood in the stead of President Ernest Bai Koroma, remarked that “every goal of justice requires sacrifices and passion for ordinary citizens.”
Speaking on the theme: ‘Instituting Reform, Improving Services to the Public’ Kamara maintained that the justice system around the world is always maligned, as many people believe that only the rich get justice.
However, he insisted that “as a country, we need to make sure that the poor get justice and also improve service to the public. Working together is the only way out to require justice and when men and women come together we can get a good justice system.”
The Attorney General pledged that government would ensure that even less privileged folks get justice, adding that that lends credence to the theme of the conference – instituting reform, improving service to the public – which requires the judiciary to provide quality services to ordinary citizens.
“My government recognises in the Agenda for Prosperity that the justice system should ensure security to the public and access to justice, through accountable legal system. In the current justice structure strategy and plan, the role of making justice accessible, efficient, and progressive is not automatic, but together we can make it happen. We need to succeed because there can be no peace and development without justice,” he said.
He noted that the maiden judicial conference attracted officials not just from the Judiciary, but other ministries, departments and agencies, civil society partners, and applauded the UK government for their continuous support to improve the justice in Sierra Leone.
The conference, which was supported by the United Kingdom government through Access to Justice and Security Program (ASJP), will end today, with participants expected to agree on a broad line of reforms in various thematic areas, including case management, speedy trials, bail and sentencing, human resource, training, etc.