Expanding Community-Based Justice Services (SL0022)
Action Plan: Sierra Leone Action Plan 2019-2021
Action Plan Cycle: 2019
Lead Institution: Attorney General and Ministry of Justice
Support Institution(s): Legal Aid Board (LAB); Judiciary; Local Councils; Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (Office of the President); Ministry of Lands (community justice fund); Ministry of Finance; Human Rights Commission; Office of the Ombudsperson, Namati; National Coalition for Community Legal Empowerment (NaCCLE); Advocaid; Open Society Initiative for West Africa; Open Data Council
Policy AreasAccess to Justice, Inclusion, Justice, Public Participation, Sustainable Development Goals
Starred: Pending IRM Review
Early Results: No IRM Data
Relevant to OGP Values: Public Accountability
What is the public problem that the commitment will address?
According to the Government of Sierra Leone’s situation
analysis of the justice sector, it has been ‘marred by poor
service delivery, limited access to justice, limited
allocation of resources, shortage of staffing and limited
capacity’. As of early 2018, there were only 21 judges and
20 magistrates covering the entire country, with only few
based out of Freetown. Limited judicial staff, backlog of
cases, delays in the dispensation of justice, and corruption
within the judiciary has all contributed to the erosion of
public confidence in the judiciary and formal justice
system as a whole.
Community-based and informal justice service delivery
has been shown to be used more frequently throughout
the country than the formal justice system and result in a
higher rate of resolution of legal problems. A 2018 survey
conducted by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa
(OSIWA) of 52 chiefdoms across Sierra Leone revealed
that in only 8% of cases did respondents initiate a formal
court process and in only 10% of cases did they seek the
assistance of lawyers to address one or more legal
problems they have faced in the last two years. Instead,
13% sought the assistance of an informal community
leader or organization for mediation or arbitration and 14%
used dialogue or reconciliation processes. Of the formal
court processes initiated, only 4% of respondents were
actually involved in a court hearing and only 18% of the
cases initiated in court were completely resolved. In
contrast, where engagement occurred through an informal
mechanism or mediation, about 54% of cases were
What is the commitment?
Ensure access to justice for all by expanding communitybased justice services and increasing transparency in local level structures
How will the commitment contribute to solving the public problem?
This commitment seeks to increase access to justice for
all by expanding legal services to marginalised,
vulnerable, poor, and/or rural populations provided by
legal aid boards, community-based justice service
providers (paralegals), NGOs, and CSO non-lawyers. It
also seeks to increase local provision of justice services
through grievance redress mechanisms within local
councils and existing community governance structures.
The commitment’s emphasis on supporting non-lawyer
interventions and the non-formal justice sector are meant
to increase citizen participation in justice delivery, while
promoting transparency and accountability in the local
justice delivery structures that communities are most
likely to engage.
Why is this commitment relevant to OGP values?
This commitment is a natural extension of the second
prong of Commitment 9 on Access to Justice under the
NAP II, which focused on increasing transparency in
case management and establishing structures at the
local level to improve access to justice.
The commitment’s emphasis on supporting non-lawyer
interventions and the non-formal justice sector are meant
to increase citizen participation in justice delivery (a
public service), while promoting transparency and
accountability in the local justice delivery structures that
communities are most likely to engage. Increasing justice
interventions at the local and community levels ensures
rule of law and helps to increase public safety in
Furthermore, access to Justice is complementary to
transparency and access to information. Implementation
of the Right to Access Information Act is key to access to
justice because the public and paralegals need
information from the judiciary and police and sectorspecific data on health, education, and more to be able
to know their rights and hold public officials accountable.
Ensuring access to justice by expanding communitybased justice services features explicitly in the
government’s New Direction agenda under ‘Advancing
Rule of Law, Promoting Justice and Human Rights’
under Pillar IV on ‘Improving Governance’. Among the
challenges the government itself has identified in justice
sector is ‘the growing erosion of public confidence’ in the
judiciary. As part of its plan to ‘overhaul the judiciary and
justice delivery system in the country with a view to
restoring public confidence in its independence and
impartiality and make justice accessible and available for
all’, the government has committed to ‘train a cadre of
'paralegals' to support the sector in the country's extreme
rural communities where the services of trained legal
practitioner's currently pose a huge challenge’. While the
government’s New Direction agenda also includes
strengthening the country’s Legal Aid programme to
continue to provide legal aid services to indigent and
vulnerable citizens, expanding community-based justice
services goes beyond those provided by LAB paralegals
and includes community justice services provided by civil
society. The President has reiterated this commitment on
several occasions, including the State Opening of
Parliament and during the UN General Assembly in
During the 2018 UNGA, President Bio gave additional
details on the government’s plan for the justice sector.
Prominently featured were plans to train more paralegals
to support the justice sector in remote rural communities
that cannot access formal courts and establish local
administrative justice and other grievance redress
mechanisms in order to free up the Magistrate and High
Courts (i.e. the formal justice system) to deal with more
complex cases. Local councils are already subject to a
number of transparency provisions in the Local
Government Act 2004, such as publishing an annual
development plan and budget. If local grievance redress
mechanisms are established through the Local Councils.
This commitment also consolidates government’s
commitment to achieving SDG 16 and the open
government agenda, which are inextricably linked.
Promoting access to justice through community-based
paralegals and structures is also part of the
government’s commitment to achieving SDG 16.3, which
encourages acceleration in the provision of justice to
people and communities outside the protection of the
law. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice,
representing Sierra Leone as a co-chair of the global
Task Force on Justice, has announced plans to use data
to better understand why people ‘want to resolve their
problems and disputes informally or through customary
justice systems.’ At the 2019 UNGA, she announced the
government’s plans to open a Justice Innovation Centre
(JIC) to further access to justice data collection and
aggregation. As mentioned above, some data already
exists. However, this is just a small sampling and the
OGP’s emphasis on open data would be vital to building
the evidentiary base necessary for developing the
relevant community-based paralegal and justice
structures and that the government provides adequate
financing to address the actual needs and patterns
associated with community-based justice delivery in the
The commitments on Access to Justice and Access to
Information are complementary. Implementation of the
Right to Access Information Act is key to access to
justice because the public and paralegals need
information from the judiciary and justice sector and
sector-specific data to be able to assert their rights or
address the problems they are facing in their
IRM Midterm Status Summary
1. Access to Justice
Ensure access to justice for all by expanding community-based justice services and increasing transparency in local level structures.
This commitment seeks to increase access to justice for all by expanding legal services to marginalised, vulnerable, poor, and/or rural populations provided by legal aid boards, community-based justice service providers (paralegals), NGOs, and CSO non-lawyers. It also seeks to increase local provision of justice services through grievance redress mechanisms within local councils and existing community governance structures. The commitment’s emphasis on supporting non-lawyer interventions and the non-formal justice sector [is] meant to increase citizen participation in justice delivery, while promoting transparency and accountability in the local justice delivery structures that communities are most likely to engage.
- Develop a national access to justice policy framework.
- Establish an Access to Justice Directorate within the Ministry of Justice.
- 300 community-based justice service providers identified or recruited, and trained. Data on recruitment and training of community-based justice service providers reported to Ministry of Justice on a quarterly basis.
- Administrative justice mechanisms and grievance redress mechanisms at the local level are identified and mapped.
- A Justice Innovation Centre is established with a data aggregation system that promotes interaction between community justice service providers and the formal justice system.
- The Legal Assistance Fund provided for in the 2015 National Land Policy for legal and paralegal assistance to communities in negotiation with large scale land investors is established.
Editorial Note: For the complete text of this commitment, please see Sierra Leone’s action plan at (https://bit.ly/3bPiqwh).
IRM Design Report Assessment
This commitment aims to increase access to justice for all by expanding and supporting customary, non-lawyer, and community-based justice services. These include services provided by legal aid boards, paralegals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society organization (CSO) non-lawyers. In doing so, this commitment sought to address and ameliorate public concern around Sierra Leone’s formal justice sector, which has been “marred by poor service delivery, limited allocation of resources, shortage of staffing and limited capacity.”  Poor infrastructure, reliance on manual record-keeping, and poorly-trained personnel have led to a severe backlog of cases and delays in the administration of justice.  High costs, the complexities of the formal justice system, a lack of legal representation, and widespread judicial corruption have compounded Sierra Leoneans’ distrust of the formal justice sector.  The inadequate access to justice is of particular concern for marginalized, vulnerable, poor, and rural populations.
On the other hand, according to a 2019 survey on perceptions of justice in Sierra Leone, customary justice providers enjoy higher levels of citizen trust than formal courts.  Sierra Leoneans prefer these customary justice providers over the formal courts because they are perceived to be more accessible (physical proximity and cost), more effective, and less corrupt.  Research also suggests that Sierra Leoneans sometimes seek redress outside the formal court system to go “forum shopping” for their desired outcome.  Resorting to customary justice providers also leads to a higher incidence of dispute resolution,  although there is a concern that for disputes involving large-scale appropriation of land or “land grabbing” and crimes involving sexual and gender-based violence, local chiefs are more likely to protect the interests of the powerful.  A cross-cutting concern is that transparency and accountability are low to nonexistent for both forms of justice provision.  By expanding community-based justice services and increasing transparency in local level structures, the commitment therefore aims to ensure access to justice for all.
This commitment is relevant to the OGP value of public accountability, by making justice mechanisms cheaper, faster, and easier to use. Supporting non-lawyer services such as legal education and advocacy empowers citizens to participate more effectively in the justice processes, thus strengthening channels where citizens can hold the government to account. Non-lawyer and informal mediation and negotiation also expands the range of judicial services available.
At the time this commitment was designed, there were 241 local courts constituted in terms of the Local Courts Act, 2011 to provide formal justice in 149 Chiefdoms in Sierra Leone.  There were also 149 Paramount Chiefs and over 15,000 subchiefs (section chiefs and town chiefs) providing informal justice.  The law already supports the work of paralegals that function at the interface of the formal and informal justice systems: According to the Legal Aid Act, 2012, the Legal Aid Board must appoint at least one paralegal to each Chiefdom to provide advice, legal assistance, and legal education to the Paramount Chief and the inhabitants of the Chiefdom, and (where appropriate) to assist in diverting certain cases to the formal justice system.  However, according to Sierra Leone’s Medium-Term National Development Plan, as of 2019 the country could boast only 40 paralegals nationwide.  This number increases to approximately 120 when paralegals employed by CSOs and NGOs are taken into consideration.  There has been a significant rise in land conflicts arising from large commercial land deals in Sierra Leone.  While nongovernmental organizations provide assistance to resolve land conflicts,  targeted government support for communities to strengthen their negotiating position in such land deals was not in place prior to the commitment.
If fully implemented as written, the potential impact of this commitment is expected to be moderate. By targeting the justice mechanisms most used by Sierra Leoneans, this commitment promises to have a significant impact on citizens’ access to justice. In particular, this commitment will advance equal access to justice by strengthening legal services available in rural areas. The commitment is verifiable, with clearly identifiable and measurable milestones and activities.
For successful implementation, several factors should be taken into account:
- The government should ensure that local grievance redress mechanisms are equally accessible to all citizens and effectively respond to their conflicts.
- The government should take a multistakeholder implementation approach, partnering closely across agencies, levels of government, and with customary and nongovernmental institutions to maximize capacity and expertise.
- Community-based justice should be sufficiently resourced and accessible to offer a viable alternative and ease formal courts’ heavy caseload.
The commitment has several important limitations. First, the Legal Assistance Fund is not sufficient to empower communities to stand their ground in conflicts with large scale investors. However, the Legal Assistance Fund is an important first step towards increasing citizens’ access to representation and information needed to negotiate with large-scale investors. Additionally, the activities in this commitment do not explicitly address the current backlog of cases on the formal justice system. Finally, the commitment does not address widespread corruption in Sierra Leone’s judicial system.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 1. Access to Justice
This commitment sought to ensure access to justice for all by expanding community-based justice services and increasing transparency. Out of the six milestones of this commitment, there was relevant (although partial) progress made only around one (Milestone 3 on recruiting and training community-based justice service providers). A first group of providers is currently being trained.  Furthermore, marginal actions were taken to establish data aggregation systems and promote legal assistance funds (in relationship to milestones 5 and 6).
According to Namati, the CSO working as the focal point of this commitment, changes in government staff and lack of coordination among areas of government impaired implementation, especially around the first two milestones, which were included during co-creation by the then-participating government representative.  Problems in cross-agency coordination, in particular regarding human resources and financing, were also identified by government officials (e.g., there were contradictory opinions in different areas of government on whether creating a new entity, the Access to Justice Directorate, was necessary).  The wide range of policy issues covered by the six milestones of the commitment also appears to have hindered implementation and monitoring efforts.
Despite poor implementation, according to Namati, the commitment has helped in raising awareness about the importance of community-based services and in changing narratives on what access to justice means. Furthermore, there has been active engagement of CSOs around the milestones on which some progress has been made. Finally, during the time of implementation of the commitment, a helpful report by the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation was published that discussed the number of civil cases recorded in the local courts between 2009 to 2018 across all 149 chiefdoms in Sierra Leone, modeling a fruitful way of making more information on access to justice available to the public.