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The Criminal Justice Program’s objective is to provide systematic access to justice for detainees at police stations and prisons. Criminal Justice (CJ) paralegal teams currently operate in Makeni, Bo, Magburaka, Kenema and Moyamba. They have handled more than 4,300 cases to date and managed the release of approximately 2,300 detainees.
Timap CJ paralegals are stationed daily at police stations, courts and prisons where they assist suspects from the arrest onward. Their responsibilities include:
- Ensuring that human rights and the constitutional limits of detention are respected
- Verifying that only those who pose a risk to the community are remanded in detention
- Providing basic legal advice
- Keeping careful records of each case
- Referring cases with specific criteria to lawyers
The Paralegal Team
A Criminal Justice Paralegal Team is usually made up of three paralegals, one for each venue: the police station, the court and the prison. The practice of daily rotation enshrines Timap’s fundamental values: cooperation among paralegals, fair treatment of detainees and accountability through mutual monitoring.
Paralegals are jointly recruited by Timap and by the community. They are trained in basic criminal law and criminal procedure and provided with the practical skills necessary to support suspects and work with community members and justice sector officials. They are supervised and supported by a lead paralegal as well as qualified lawyers, who take up cases where there is a need for further assistance.
At Police Stations
Paralegals visit the police station first thing in the morning so that they can speak to all individuals who were detained overnight. There is no client screening process: paralegals meet and open a new case file on every detainee in the holding cells. They assist lawfully arrested detainees to apply for bail when he or she is neither a flight risk nor an immediate danger to the community. Paralegals also assist unlawfully arrested detainees to secure their release. In cases where a detainee is being held longer than is permitted by law, Timap provides her/him with legal aid to either fast-track the case or secure the detainee’s release. In addition, paralegals identify and locate sureties, and educate them about a surety’s role and responsibilities.
Paralegals identify all remand inmates—inmates who have not yet been sentenced and thus fall into the category of ‘pre-trial’. In cases where remand inmates have not previously applied for bail or have been erroneously denied bail by a magistrate, the paralegal explains the bail process and aids the inmate in launching a new application for court bail. The paralegals also identify, contact and inform sureties of their role and responsibilities. In cases where remand inmates have been awaiting trial through several court adjournments, the paralegals refer the cases to Timap lawyers.
Paralegals are not permitted to directly represent their clients in court. Thus in cases that involve an indigent defendant, an abuse of rights, and/or a potential for impact, the paralegals may refer specific cases to Timap lawyers. Once a client’s case has been identified as needing formal legal assistance, the paralegal acts primarily as a conduit of information between the coordinator, the client, and the relevant court official in either the Magistrate or High Court. Paralegals sit in court to observe their client’s hearing, taking note of any follow-up actions or dates they need to observe. Timap paralegals interact with court officials on a daily basis ensuring that procedures are followed.
Paralegal Aid Clinics
Paralegals hold weekly Paralegal Aid Clinics (PLCs) to empower prison inmates by illustrating relevant laws and procedures through forum theatre and interactive learning techniques. These clinics include lessons on:
- Useful points to make in a bail application or plea in mitigation
- How to conduct their defence in court should they be unable to retain the services of a lawyer
- Various defences available under the criminal law
- Principles of sentencing
- How to draft an appeal against a sentence
Community Dialogue Meetings
In addition to serving individual detainees, paralegals also address criminal justice-related problems at the community level. Like their colleagues in the ‘Core’ programme, Criminal Justice paralegals hold monthly ‘community dialogue meetings.’ They pick different topics such as how bail works, the role of a surety, attending court, detention time limits, and the role of different bodies within the criminal justice sector. The meetings also provide an opportunity for criminal justice officials to address community concerns, demystify their roles, and build community trust in the institutions they represent.