Timap for Justice is a pioneering effort to provide basic justice services in Sierra Leone. Because of a shortage of lawyers in the country and because of Sierra Leone’s dualist legal structure, Timap’s frontline is made up of community-based paralegals rather than lawyers. We presently employ over 70 staff who work in 19 paralegal offices across Sierra Leone as well as in the capital Freetown.
We have developed a creative, flexible model to advance justice, one which combines education, mediation, negotiation, organizing, and advocacy. Our paralegals’ efficacy stems from a confluence of 1) a knowledge of, and facility with, formal law and government, and 2) a knowledge of the community and facility with more community-oriented, social movement-type tools. Few social agents in Sierra Leone possess both types of capacity.
Direction and Strategy
Our program is directed by two lawyers who train, supervise, and support the paralegals in their work. The directors employ litigation and high-level advocacy sparingly and strategically to address cases in which a) a paralegal is not able to achieve resolution on her own, b) the harm or injustice is severe, and/or c) there is a possibility of legal impact. Because litigation or even the threat of litigation carries significant weight in Sierra Leone — word spreads like wildfire when a lawyer visits the countryside — our capacity to litigate adds strength to our paralegals’ ongoing work as advocates and mediators.
Timap strives to solve clients’ justice problems — thereby demonstrating concretely that justice is possible — and at the same time to cultivate the agency of the communities among which we work. We adopt a synthetic orientation towards Sierra Leone’s dualist legal structure, engaging and seeking to improve both formal and customary institutions.
The Community Mediation Programme (CMP) and the Criminal Justice Project (CJP)
In 2009 we launched two initiatives expanding on Timap’s core work. Modeled on the Malawian Village Mediation Programme, the CMP is a partnership with the Sierra Leonean government’s Justice Sector Development Programme and focuses on resolution of disputes at the community level through mediation. Timap paralegals train and mentor ordinary men and women to serve as mediators in their communities according to a strict code of conduct. At the end of 2010, some 300 Timap-trained mediators had admitted over 2,000 cases, with almost 1,800 recorded as resolved.
The CJP, with support from the Open Society Justice Initiative’s “Global Campaign for Pretrial Justice”, seeks to narrow the gap in the availability of criminal justice services by employing paralegals to provide basic legal assistance to detainees. Timap paralegals are stationed at police stations and detention facilities and assist suspects immediately after arrest: to ensure their human rights and the constitutional limits of detention are respected; provide basic legal advice; collect information necessary to secure bail and refer cases to lawyers for further assistance. The CJP aims to ensure that only those who pose a risk to the community are remanded in detention. By December 2010 our ten CJP paralegals had handled more than 4,300 cases, managing the release of more than 2,300 detainees.
Timap for Justice programs have succeeded in achieving solutions to thousands of justice problems of poor Sierra Leoneans. We have been recognized by independent parties including the World Bank, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and the International Crisis Group for developing a creative, effective methodology for providing justice services in the difficult and complex context of rural Sierra Leone.