Sierra Leone's search for justice goes mobile

May 10, 2017

Detainee at The Sierra Leone Correctional Service © Lilah Gaafar UNDP Sierra Leone

Lamin Sesay, 39, has been a detainee in the Sierra Leone Male Correctional Service in Freetown for 30 months, charged with unlawful possession of small arms.

Lamin has been called to the courthouse approximately 40 times with no progress on his case.

“The system is slow. I haven’t even seen a judge. I get given dates, I come back and I don’t see anyone”

“The state council tells me the judge is not there”

“I feel bad but I have nothing to do,” he stressed bowing his head, placing both hands on a small black bible.

“I have no problem with the Correctional Service. It’s the waiting time and the uncertainty that is stressful. I can’t react. I’m stuck.” 

“I have been charged with a bailable offence. I am supposed to be out on bail.”

Mr. Sesay, like many detainees at the Pademba Road Correctional Centre await their sentence and in some cases they linger in detention for years while waiting to see a Judge.

In 2016, the average waiting time to go before the High Court drastically reduced from 4 years to less than a year. The Sierra Leone judicial system has made significant progress, but effective case management still remains a challenge.

In partnership with UNDP, the Sierra Leone judiciary launched an app in April of this year that has already begun to relieve court clerks, judges and detainees alike in an overstretched judiciary.

The first of its kind in Sierra Leone, the app fast tracks cases and will gradually replace the old case management system. It facilitates the process from hearing to sentence.

Chief Justice Abdulai Hamid Charm acknowledged that the app helps understand why certain cases are not granted bail, allowing for corrective measures but to also monitor Judges and the Magistrates. In addition, the app will assist in harmonizing sentencing across Sierra Leone. 

“We really welcome this innovation in delivering justice. There are so many advantages – I am able to know the matters that go before the Magistrate. I know which matter is assigned to which judge and therefore can monitor the progress of each case.”

In the pilot phase, the app was tested in the Magistrate and High Courts in Freetown and the Northern Headquarter town of Makeni, this low cost solution in case handling is now set to expand to the provinces of Bo and Kenema. The app works on and offline and the tablets are rechargeable via small solar panels.

The app was developed by the Sierra Leonean technology company, iDT Labs, and funded by the US Department of State, specifically the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs through the UNDP project, “Promoting Transparency in Sierra Leone’s Judiciary”.

View the photo essay on exposure here

Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual

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