Photo: Participants- Aminata, Mariama and Samuel during a simulation exercise on data entry into the monitoring template ©UNDP Sierra Leone/ Alpha Sesay

On 26th January 2019, in Bo district, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) held a one-day skills development training for 46 court monitors and data entry clerks from across the 16 districts of Sierra Leone.

The training aimed at improving the skills and knowledge of court monitors and data entry clerks on the content of the Bail Regulations which were enacted in 2018 by the Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The objectives of the training were to equip participants with updated skills to monitor Magistrates Courts with sufficient knowledge on court proceedings; and to improve the quality of data collection, recording, analysis and dissemination.

For close to a decade, Aminata, Mariama and Samuel from Kambia, Kono and Freetown respectively have worked with the courts as ancillary workers, case monitors and crime reporters in the magistrate courts in their districts. Participating in the training, they all voiced two major challenges they have faced in their work: the knowledge gap on court policies and procedures, and the lack of a standard monitoring tool to gather and present data in a consistent format. “This has prevented us from doing our work the way we are expected to do it” said Mariama.

To address the knowledge and skills gap for court monitors and ensure that they are adequately equipped to work in their various districts, UNDP, through a competitive process selected three CSOs namely the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law, Prison Watch and Humanist Watch to in turn pass on the knowledge to their peers in order to increase and measure the level of compliance in the implementation of the Bail Regulations by Magistrates Courts across the country. This one-day knowledge and skills training workshop contributes to the joint efforts to improve the overall justice system and consequently good governance in Sierra Leone.

Part of the knowledge and skills the participants received included: general bail conditions and provisions, entitlement to bail, court users with special needs, and mandatory requirements from prosecution in opposing the granting of bail among other topics. The workshop comprised of simulation exercises on the use of court proceedings monitoring and record keeping tools with user-friendly templates that allow easy input of data as court proceedings are underway. “As part of the monitoring process, Court Monitors will collect data in over 5,000 court cases across the 16 judicial districts in 12 months.” said Ibrahim Tommy, Executive Director, Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law and lead facilitator. Data collected and analyzed will be presented to the Judiciary and justice sector partners to inform practice directions and sector wide policy development for improved service delivery.

 “There is no way we can measure the delivery of justice services without recourse to monitoring. It is central that any monitoring of a justice sector institution is accompanied by a credible and trustworthy method. That is why we think that enhancing the ability of the monitor on the Bail Regulations for them to know what to do to collect credible data is key going forward”, said Walter Neba, the UNDP Rule of law Programme Specialist.

Aimed overall at achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions), the training is also intended to empower the court monitors to help popularize the Bail Regulations as enacted at district and community level in order to inform and enhance peoples’ awareness.

UNDP has supported the Judiciary in Sierra Leone since 2015 through its Rule of Law project funded by the US Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The project entitled Promoting Transparency in Sierra Leone’s Judiciary contributed to strengthening judicial processes around bail and sentencing. 

Overall, together with full support towards the implementation of the Bail Regulations and Prison Courts UNDP’s Rule of Law project has assisted justice sector institutions in the identification of challenges and enhanced oversight of cases, as well as the roll-out of the case management system. As a result, the unsentenced population in Sierra Leone’s detention centers has continuously decreased by 11 % since 2015 according to the Sierra Leone Prison Statistics, 2018, thus making progress towards the achievement of SDG 16.3.

Note to Editors: With UNDP’s support through Working Groups-the justice chain link, the Bail Regulations received Parliament approval in August 2018. This instrument provides guidance to Judges and Magistrates in the application of court bail while also limiting discretion. The justice chain link worked tirelessly to develop the guidelines from 2015 – 2016 which had received the initial support from the Rules of the Court Committee.

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