The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) with support from UN Women has held a one-day briefing session with the Women’s Legislative Caucus, and other legislators on the implementation of the National legal Aid Policy, a release has said.
According to the release, the one-day briefing session was facilitated by former Chief Justice, Cllr. Frances Johnson Allison and former Commissioner, Liberia Immigration Service, Cllr. Abla Gadegbeku-Williams.
In their presentations, the two lawyers said the policy is to enhance every citizen access to justice, an obligation of the government. The lawyers said legal aid is not structured, and sustained in the country.
As such, when the policy is being legislated, the relevant agency will be established to dispense legal aid (free service). The lawyers said the drafting of the policy was prompted by Article 11(c) of the Constitution: “All persons are equal before the law and are therefore entitled to the equal protection of the law;” and the Chapter 2.2(1) of the Criminal Procedure Law: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to be represented by legal counsel at every stage of the proceedings from the time of arrest or, where no arrest has been made, from the initial appearance and submission of the accused to the jurisdiction of the court. This right continues through appeal and post conviction proceedings, if any.”
They also said the drafting of the Policy is in compliance with relevant international instruments that Liberia ratifies and enjoined state parties to provide equal access to justice to everyone within its territorial borders.
However, the lawyers said that most indigents have little knowledge of protection under the law; at the same time, public defenders are inadequate to provide legal services for citizens.
While linking the Policy to the National Agenda, the two facilitators also said the National Legal Aid Policy is in fulfillment of Pillar One of the government’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development– Power to the People.
The policy supports that in addition to other criteria that will be set under the law, indigents should be the primary beneficiaries of legal aid services. On the overall, the lawyers extolled the efforts of those who crafted the Policy, and expressed the hope that AFELL would do everything to fast track the process to a draft legal aid bill to be presented on the floor at the legislature for hearing.
AFELL with support from UN Women is also implementing a project on Gender Responsive Peace building and Rule of Law to enhance the capacities of, and public confidence in the different justice and security institutions, and to improve access to justice, security and protection services, especially for women and girls.
The project is closely aligned with the relevant national development goals of the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, and priorities set out in the Liberia Peace building Plan.