The President of the Republic of Sierra Leone His Excellency Brigadier RTD. Julius Maada Bio in an international conference held in late 2019 for judges in the sub region on theme “Judicial Training Workshop/Dialogue for the Effective Implementation of Global, Regional and Sub regional Human Rights Norms in Anglophone West Africa” applauded the strategic support of the United Nations Development Program to the Judiciary of Sierra Leone and further the described the UNDP as one of the most “credible and dependable partners” that has been supporting his government on effective reforms in the justice sector.
Delivering his statement marking the opening of the conference, President Bio revealed that the UNDP was very supportive to the Judiciary in ensuring that correctional centers in the country particularly the Male and the Female Correctional Centers were positively decongested. According to the President, UNDP funded the out-door Prison Court that created legal platform for more than one thousand two hundred inmates who have been incarcerated for several years either without being served with indictments, on judgement reserved, on prolong adjournment, mentally deranged etc. had their respectively matters tried expeditiously. Forty-seven (47) of the longest serving inmates who had never been served with indictments were discharged on habeas corpus applications, some were granted bail, acquitted and discharged and others were given custodial sentences. More than 550 inmates had their cases on track after being served with an indictment for the first time after prolonged detention ranging from between 1 year to 9 years.
To ensure that cases were expedited, the Judiciary embarked on a Judicial Week employing fifteen judges resulting in the hearing of additionally more than 800 cases across the country decongesting both the Male and Female Correctional Centers bringing down the figures at the time from more than 2,000 inmates to 1,644.
The United Nations Development Program was extremely key in financing the drafting and popularization of Constitutional Instrument No. 5 of 2018 commonly called the Bail Regulations, 2018 which has been rolled out across judicial districts. In ensuing it effectively works, the Hon. Chief Justice Hon. Justice Desmond Babatunde Edwards ensured that copies were given to the Law Officers’ Department, the Sierra Leone Bar Association, the Sierra Leone Legal Aid, the Legal and Justice Department of the Sierra Leone Police, District and City Councils, Division Headquarters of the Sierra Leone Police, Civil Societies, universities, colleges and the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. Inspection activity carried out by Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) revealed that the Bail Regulation is progressively working at both magistrate and High Courts. The CARL report revealed that magistrates and judges are progressively working in accordance with the content of the bail regulations and are granting bail for mainly minor offences including traffic offences besides motor manslaughter and judges are doing the same for even capital offences where the defense lawyer presents persuasive reasons for his or her bail application to be granted. The Bail Regulations many believe is one of the key legal pieces to be used by the leadership of the Judiciary to effectively monitor and address overcrowding at various Correctional Centers in the country.
The UNDP helped digitalized the Judiciary of Sierra Leone more especially with the introduction of the Justice App. The Justice App is an advanced judicial application that is used by the Judiciary particularly judges and magistrates to identify repeated offenders and to also track the expeditious nature of matters assigned to judges and magistrates. To better understand it operations, the Judicial and Legal Training Institute (JLTI) with funds from UNDP conducted one (1) national training and three (3) regional trainings bringing together more than 150 magistrates, judges, court clerks, administrative officials and the Chief Justice himself to receive ample knowledge on the utilization of the tool and to gain more confidence in using the tool. Overall, over 1,800 cases have been uploaded into the Justice App which progress of the cases is overviewed by the Chief Justice himself who is monitoring progress on cases as a Super User of the App.
To ensure that the work of the Chief Justice is complemented with proper monitoring and oversight on the implementation of the Bail Regulations, a Bail and Sentencing Committee was established by the Chief Justice with a Senior Supreme Court Judge as Chairperson. The Committee will embark on outreach session nationally to track patterns in the application of the Regulations and make recommendations to the CJ on remedial measures to ensure the full implementation of the legislation.
Negative public perception submerged the good image of the Judiciary of Sierra Leone to a point that the Judiciary of Sierra Leone was tagged in the 2004 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Report as one of the key institutions responsible for the bloody eleven-year civil war. The United Nations Development Program did not only establish the Public Relations Office of the Judiciary of Sierra Leone but effectively supported its operations. In the 2019 project year, UNDP supported the office of the Public Relations to embark on a nationwide public education on judicial reforms vis-à-vis access to justice and expeditious trial for all in Sierra Leone. The Afro barometer report revealed an increase in percentage from 23% in the then survey to 53% in the just concluded public perception survey on the Judiciary.