The formal opening of the four Bureaus by the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles follows the training of 96 volunteers at Maxwell Street in Wellington. Ms. Carlton-Hanciles formally opened the Bureaus with these few words:
‘On behalf of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Justice Sector institutions, I have the honour to formally launch the Community Advisory Bureau which will contribute to bringing justice to the Ward.’ This was followed by the handing-over of relevant documents for use of the Bureaus. These include copies of draft Invitation Letters, General Referral and Maintenance Agreement Forms to the respective Councilors.
The opening of the Bureaus came about a little over two weeks since the opening of four other Bureaus in the Wellington and Calaba Town Area in the East and nearly a month since the opening of the first set of three Bureaus in Lumley and Wilkinson Road area in the West of Freetown. This development brings to eleven the total number of Bureaus in the Western Area and by extension the country.
The Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles told the volunteers that their priority should be to reduce the numbers behind bars in the country which is very alarming. She lamented the increase in the numbers behind bars, resulting in overcrowding in correctional centers.
‘We have done our best to reduce the prison population since we started operations in May 2015 but have failed, we have to be honest,’ she said. ‘In 2016 we provided legal assistance to 26,000 poor people and were hopeful to decongest the correctional centers but the figures have been grim.’
She urged the Bureaus to come up with initiatives to reduce the number of matters taken to the police. According to Ms. Carlton-Hanciles many such matters could be prevented through community level meetings to address potential areas of conflicts. She added that many matters taken to the police, especially civil matters, could be better resolved by the bureaus because the parties are also reconciled.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles took time to educate the volunteers on how to mediate some of the most common law and order issues in the community. She noted the Bureaus should not hesitate to mediate issues of husband and wife, debts, land, landlord and tenant, inheritance and property.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles urged the volunteers to live up to the confidence reposed in them by the groups they are representing in the Bureau. ‘You will become irrelevant the moment you lose the confidence of the people and this has the potential to undermine confidence in the Bureau,’ she said.
She urged the volunteers to be neutral and stand up for the truth noting that everybody is equal before God and the law.
Papers were presented on the relationship between the Bureaus on one hand and the Legal Aid Board and legal aid providers on the other, Monitoring, Supervision and Reporting mechanism, Support of the Legal Aid Board to the Bureau and the relationship between the Bureau and the media.
The Chair of the Police Partnership Board for the East, Alhaji Algassimu Sesay said the people should count themselves lucky for being among the first to have the Bureau in their Ward. He stressed that they should therefore treated them with utmost seriousness to promote peace and security in the community. He praised the Board for ensuring the release of result of 253 pupils of the Trinity International Secondary School in Allen Town by the West African Examinations Council.
The Councilors of the four Ward – Councilor Mohamed Tholley of Ward 350, Shedrack Kargbo of 353, Thaimu Bangura of 347 and Alhassan Bangura of 351 – pledge to provide the necessary support and to do everything possible to ensure they succeed.
Similar sentiments were expressed by the representative of the chiefs, Lamin Sow; the Imam Alhassan Amin Samura, Pastor Jonathan Turay, youth leader Ibrahim Sesay, Women’s leader Aminata Minka and Philip Gbow an opposition politician.