The Legal Aid Board with support from UNICEF has organized a one-day orientation workshop for 50 volunteer paralegals on the provision of quality legal aid services to children in conflict with the law at the Board’s head office on 27 Wilberforce Street in Freetown.
The training aimed at capacitating the volunteers with the requisite skills and knowledge in the provision of legal advice and assistance to juveniles investigated at the Family Support Units (FSU) of the police around the country. The volunteers will be stationed at the FSU where they will provide legal assistance to the juveniles upon their arrest until they are charged to court.
The participants were drawn from all the 16 districts across the country. They will be deployed in 50 FSU branches in six police regions in the country in the Freetown-West; Freetown-East; Southern; Eastern; North-Western and North-Eastern as follows: 25 police divisional headquarters, 13 police stations and 12 police posts.
The Chair of the workshop, the Registrar and Programme Manager of the Legal Aid Board, Joseph Dumbuya underscored the importance of the training in ensuring suspects including juveniles are not abused whilst they are under police investigation. He said juveniles have a right to legal advice and assistance upon their arrest until they are charged to court. He added that, this is provided for in the National Constitution and the Legal Aid Act 2012. He said many juveniles have been deceived into confessing they committed a particularly offence by the police which they had denied in court.
Legal Aid Counsel responsible for Juveniles Ibrahim Bangura and Dr. Patrick Sovie presented a paper on Guidelines on Child-Friendly Legal Aid at police station. They explained about the various categories of offences: serious or felonious, hybrid and minor or misdemeanor offences. They said the first thing paralegals should do whenever they visit a police station is to know the offence for which a suspect is being investigated. Counsel Bangura said child victims and witnesses are in contact with the law but not in conflict with the law.
They urged the participants to always lodge formal complaints on improper handling of investigations by the police with the Complaints Disciplinary Internal Investigations Department (CDIID) of the police. Dr Sovie urged the volunteers to always take record of issues at police stations and forward same to their lawyers and Regional Managers for advice and guidance.
They urged the Paralegals to be passionate about their job adding that they are ambassadors for juvenile offenders. They admonished them to always draw the attention of the police to Section 35(1) of the Legal Aid Act 2012 which provides that the police should call or inform the Board upon the arrest of anybody who seems to be an indigent including children and women.
The Monitoring and Evaluation Manager, Salu Jusu presented a paper on Data Collection and Reporting.
The training was climaxed with presentation and discussion from group work on various legal assistance to juveniles at Police station. Rechargeable blue-tooth players were also presented to Regional Managers.