Over Commissions Of Inquiry… LAB Warns Citizens

Following the launch of the three Commissions of Inquiry by President Julius Maada Bio last Tuesday 29th January, 2019, the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board has in a statement drawn the attention of the public, especially its clients, to the unprecedented increase in the demand for its services around the country.

It could be recalled that the Legal Aid Board provided legal assistance to over hundred and fifty suspects in Police Stations in Freetown and other parts of the country in the past week and most of the cases relate to crime and lawlessness.

The Board stated that it has received several calls from the public, including politicians, stakeholders and police officers informing it about indigent suspects that have a right to its services.

At the same time, the Board states, many have expressed alarm at the highly charged atmosphere and the level of intolerance in communities. The Board is therefore concerned that the situation could degenerate to levels seen in the March 2018 national elections, if politicians do not tune down their rhetoric.

The rising tension, according to the Board, is in large part due to the level of ignorance among the public about the Commissions of Inquiry, adding that what is more disheartening is that there are the educated who choose to believe the lies that are being told about the Commissions by politicians. The Board, according to report, is however convinced that some of the disputes and violence relating to the Commissions could be prevented through education and sensitization.

“This is why we are calling on the Ministry of Information and Communications to continue to ensure community ownership of the process and work with Community Based Organizations, chiefdom Human Rights Committees and Civil Society Groups, Local Authorities, Stakeholders and Community Radios to educate the public on the Commissions and also mediate community level disputes before they degenerate into violence,” a release from the Board states.

It adds: “The Board wishes it to be known that while indigent persons (poor and marginalized) have a right to legal advice and legal representation, it is important to note that the Board does not have enough personnel to provide these services to all those who are entitled to them. With Sixteen (16) lawyers and forty-two (42) Paralegals stationed around the country, the Board simply cannot guarantee these services to all indigents even though they have a right to them.”

The release furthered that “the Board would therefore like to call on all especially indigents to reframe from engaging in violence due to the commissions. Those who take to violence and fall foul of the law will not be given priority by the Board.”

The Board therefore urged its clients to know that those who have issues with the Commissions should take them to the courts, adding that the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) is doing just that. It also urged politicians to do the same if they have any such issues. “Resorting to violence because one is opposed to the Commissions is totally unacceptable,” the Board states, noting that those who allow themselves to be used will be on their own and will therefore not receive any assistance from the Board for reason already articulated.