The use of Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms is said to have played a significant role in reuniting the people of Sierra Leone many years after the civil conflict in the country.
John P. Bangura, Programme Manager of Timap for Justice, a non-governmental organisation providing paralegal services in Sierra Leone told ADR Daily in Accra that about 70-75 percent of the population use ADR to resolve their differences.
The West African country which operates a dualist legal system has a little over 450 lawyers and legal practitioners across the country with 90 percent of them providing their services in the capital, Freetown, which has 20-25 percent of the population.
The inadequate legal practitioners across the rural communities and other parts of the country leave the people with no choice than to adopt and apply ADR, which is traditionally accepted as a conflict resolution mechanism.
Mr Bangura said, “Traditionally that has been in use for a long time, so basically this is what has been in existence because you look at the formal system; it’s complex, it’s difficult to understand. Also one has to walk a long distance to access a court and ultimately what you want to have is to resolve a dispute amicably for it not to be adversarial.”
“At the end of the day, you want the disputes to be resolved amicably among the parties so ADR has to be used in order for us to have harmony in our societies because the essential part is that what is available is practical. It is what has be used so people do not spend the little money they have to pursue their legal cases at the formal courts,” he said.
He said the people find the court system “slow, costly and lack knowledge of how the court system operates” and those are the things they look out for.
“ADR is the way forward; that is what has been in existence, and that is what is working because it is affordable and accessible,” he stated.
Owing to the enormous contribution of ADR towards the resolution of disputes in Sierra Leone, he explained that the Legal Aid Board 2012 Act recognises and permits ADR service providers to operate in the country.
He said although the State was officially yet to train personnel in ADR practice, some NGOs through donor support, were providing professional services to the citizenry, usually at no cost.
Most of the cases handled by the various ADR service providers in the country, he said, include minor civil cases like child neglect, marital disputes, community and neighbour relations disputes, and land disputes.
In 2009, Timap for Justice implemented a project funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) in the United Kingdom (UK).
The project was financed for 18 months which was primarily to provide ADR services mainly; mediation services at the community level through the use of paralegal and community mediators.
Under the project, 300 community mediators were trained in the Bo and Makini Districts and were able to resolve a total of 2,232 cases amicably devoid of challengers at the end of the period.
Notwithstanding the enormous contribution of ADR to the legal system in Sierra Leone, Bangura disclosed some challenges confronting the practice, citing “the lack of capacity building for the service providers to provide professional and accessible ADR services.”
Secondly, most of the service providers are being funded by donors, and with the global economic downturn, most donors were withdrawing their support which could adversely affect the output of the ADR centres.
“Also, there is lack of knowledge on the part of the people; they do not have a clear understanding of how ADR works within the rural areas,” he said, adding the difficult to reach the rural zones remained a challenge.
Mr Bangura called for partnership from ADR institutions outside Sierra Leone and urged them to partner the Sierra Leone government and NGOs to build the capacity of ADR service providers to be able to reach the entire country to provide services professionally and systematically.
Source: Francis Tandoh/adrdaily.com