Legal Aid Board Volunteers Discuss 2019 Plan

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The twenty-four volunteers from the Bureaus in Ward 446, 445 and 446 covering Lumley, Kamayama, Kaningo, Barbadorie, Pentagon and Regent Road discussed among other issues successes, challenges and plans for 2019 with the Board. 

Commenting on the success of the Community Advisory Bureaus, the volunteers said they have settled several disputes resulting in peaceful coexistence in the community, adding that the numbers seeking their services have been on the steady increase.

Chief S.O. Gbekie stated that the Bureau in Grassfield, Lumley was able to settle debt cases resulting the recovery of over forty-two million leones owed to creditors.  He added that the work of the Bureau is appreciated to such extent that they received complaints even while at home and have intervened to ensure they do not get out of hands. This statement was reechoed by another volunteer, Mohamed Sheriff.

Marie Kargbo of Kamayama said the Bureau has reduced the crime rate in their community. In addition, they assist in educating people on the work of the police and the Rule of Law. She added that they refer all criminal matters to them. Chief Abu Marah said they referred a matter involving a thirteen year old pregnant girl to the police. ‘The man has since fled the community but we are on the lookout for him,’ he said. 

Another volunteer of the Bureau in Kamayama Osman Tolo Sesay had this to say on the increase in the number of complaints from the community: ‘People bring matters to us because we do not charge a fee.’

According to the volunteers, the most pressing challenges range from lack of funds to deliver invitation letters to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) session to stipend for volunteers, stationery, mobility, office space, furniture and disrespect for orders of the Bureaus from sections of the community.

The Executive Director of the Board, Ms. Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles underlined the need for fairness and respect for human rights. She said the Bureaus are in the forefront in addressing the justice needs of the community. She added that the matters they mediates – civil matters – are not meant for the police. She said labour matters should be referred to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. Also, matters involving the army officers should be referred to the military where there is an office to handle such matters. ‘The Board monitors very closely civil clients referred to the military for resolution,’ she said. 

She intimated the volunteers that the Board will recruit a lawyers for civil matters in the New Year. She noted it will make it easier to bring action against those who refuse to subject themselves to invitation for mediation or those who refuse to respect settlement that is reached.

She stressed the need to compile data on their services. ‘We have all done a lot to increase access to justice for the poor but this is not adequately reflected in our data,’ she stressed. ‘In this regard, the Board will plough resources into capacity-building for the volunteers in the New Year to ensure every beneficiary of our services is capture in the data,’

She noted that the Board has received allegations from clients regarding extortion and demanding money for fare to deliver letters. ‘We have suspended one of our staff for taking Le 5,000 ($ 60c) to deliver an invitation letter for Alternative Dispute Resolution,’ she warned.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles encouraged the Bureaus to hold weekly meetings which she noted will address some of the misunderstanding and challenges they face.

She assured the volunteers that the Board will use part of the subvention from government to provide some stationary and a bike for the Bureaus in that part of the city which will address the constraints they face in delivering invitation letters to ADR.

Ms. Carlton-Hanciles used the occasion to praise Parliament for calling on Government to release all the twelve billion leones (over US $ 1,400,000) the Board requested for its operations in 2019 and not the seven billion leones (US$ 800,000) approved by the Ministry of finance. ‘We are humbled by this vote of confidence on the Board as we were the only agency to be singled out for such an appeal,’ she said.