Salone News

Sierra Leone: Toward criminal justice reform

10 June 2021 at 23:43 | 723 views

By Tamba Sourie, USA

 If one visits the Law Court Building at Siaka Stevens Street in Freetown today, you would see shiny fresh paint and plenty of refurbishment of that edifice.

The Present Administration has recruited a remarkable number of law officials to man outposts in the provinces and Justices have been contracted to deal with the inundating caseload of the Judiciary.

The Police are also ramping up recruitment and there are plans mooted of moving the Central Prisons from Pademba Road to a more conducive location. All these efforts are laudable. However, the question that haunts (or should haunt) every Sierra Leonean with respect to service delivery is: Does the common man on the street feel safer, more secure or that they are being dispensed justice expeditiously
and equitably? Also, are the State and taxpayers getting a bang for their buck regarding themuch-hackneyed Criminal Justice Reform? 

As a practitioner and scholar in the area of Criminal Justice in the United States, someone who has lived the great portion of his life in Sierra Leone all through the war years, I have had the benefit of watching our criminal justice system crumble and followed efforts by succeeding administrations to build it back almost from scratch. Policy formulators, researchers, academics, etc have done a lot of work over the years. What is required is an environment where the tripodal pillars of the sector: The Police, Courts and Correctional departments are in structural
alignment with the development (human and capital) aspirations of the nation. Far too long, especially during and the immediate aftermath of the war, the sector ran on primarily reactionary mode to face the fleeting security challenges in maintaining law and order for the State and its bilateral and multilateral partners. One is hard pressed to confirm that the sector has transformed into a full development mode where the environment— laws, police, courts, prisons all function and are compliant with the human capital development focus or the country’s Medium- and
Long-Term Development agenda.

Comprehensive, cross-sectoral Criminal Justice Reform should rank topmost for any country like ours looking to consolidate its democracy and burnish its credentials as super-ready for development and massive foreign investment. The incidence of violence, lawlessness and criminality in parts of the country cries for urgent attention especially for the authorities.

Security, law and order and justice as the above quote suggests, are not luxury, they are imperatives. We must ensure that our citizenry have the opportunity to access security and justice and eliminate the obstacles in the system which deny them such. The overall goal should be minimizing the incidence of crime, ensuring timely dispensing of justice, shrinking incarceration levels and providing rehabilitation for convicts and the opportunity of returning to society as productive citizens, reducing recidivism. The incarcerated have to be held in humane
conditions with respect to their health (mental and physical), adult as well as juvenile.

This article will refrain from delving too much into the formulation of policies and infrastructure needed for serious reforms in the sector. What is clear is that A LOT has to change. The Institute for Security Studies in a recent report painted a grim picture of the sector, and called for, among other things, a review of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965. There are several issues relating to evidentiary procedure, the sentencing and interpreting of the law by judges and magistrates that need urgent review; that and studies on the Police as the "Force for Good" like the report by the Institute for Development Studies (Joseph P Chris Charley, Frieda I M'Cormack, 2011), will be engaged in subsequent articles.

This outlook has to change if we want to see the travel advisories on the country to be favorable to foreign investors, tourists and Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora. 
Even as we look outward to our development partners, the Commonwealth, DFID, UNDP, etc. to help us with our Criminal Justice Reform challenges, our strategy must be indigenous, home-grown and specific, speaking to our peculiar problems as a post war nation. Owing to the colonial roots of our Criminal Justice Sector, our laws and the whole machinery arrogates too much powers to the government, and harsh penal codes have been instrumentalized by successive administrations not proportionate to crimes, whimsically and nefariously. It is a breath of fresh air to see post-conflict institutions like the Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Board, AdvocAid, etc. However, with respect to service delivery to the majority of poor citizens, from forced statements by police to inexplicably long and inhumane incarceration, there is plenty to be desired of the sector which lies at the very heartbeat of democracy and development.


About the author
Tamba Sourie is the CEO and founder of Initiative for Criminal Justice Reforms in Sierra Leone and an eleven-year veteran of the US Army. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Criminal Justice.