The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has recognized the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles for her contribution to the third Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law held on 16-17 November 2021 in Geneva.
“The opportunity to hear your presentation and benefit from your expertise during discussions on the issue of “Making justice truly accessible to all” was extremely rewarding. Your intervention was rich and inspiring and provided useful ideas on how to increase access to justice. We received much positive feedback on the event,” the Secretary, Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Hernan Vales notes.
In her online contribution, Ms. Carlton-Hanciles told the Forum how in a little over six years, the Board has become the largest and most visible legal aid provider by establishing offices in 26 locations around the country including in all the 16 district headquarter towns. Moreover, the work of the Board has impacted many lives making it the first port of call by people with justice needs and problems in every corner of the country particularly women and children who bring matters relating to inheritance, ownership of property, maintenance and also sexual offences for referral.
‘Through the mediation of Child Maintenance matters and the opening of Child Maintenance Accounts, the Board has improved the lives of children who had been abandoned by their fathers and also ensured they do not drop out of school due to lack of money for lunch. We have also ensured that women administer and inherit property of their deceased husbands and monitor the interpretation of customary law by the traditional courts to ensure women are not disadvantaged, denied their rights and exploited,’ she told the Forum.
Ms. Carlton-Hanciles recommended the adoption of the same legal aid law around the world which caters for both civil and criminal legal aid. She noted that civil legal aid in the form of Public Interest Ligation and Child Maintenance has made a world of difference in improving access to justice for indigent employees and children of poor background. She argued that it will improve on the Public Defence System which caters for the provision of legal aid in criminal matters only.
She also recommended the employment of full-time Lawyers/Attorneys by Schemes as opposed to the contracting of outside Lawyers being paid at an expensive hourly rate. She argued that unlike Contract Lawyers, full-time lawyers are available round the clock to attend to legal matters at Police Stations, Correctional Centres, Courts and Legal Education Sessions. She furthered that it will make justice more accessible to the poor because it is provided at any time of the day or night.
The Legal Aid Board stands out for running an ambitious scheme with a small budget compared to other schemes. The third Forum did not lose sight of this fact as the letter notes: ‘Your intervention was rich and inspiring and provided useful ideas on how to increase access to justice. We received much positive feedback on the event.’