The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the Carter Center, UN Women in collaboration with the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) have crafted and validated the Legal Aid Policy of Liberia.
In 2004, the MoJ developed the policy in partnership with UN Women, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL) and The Carter Center (TCC).
According to the 37-page National Legal Aid Policy, access to justice is a fundamental human right as set out in Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and also in Article 11 (c) of the 1986 Constitution; persons are equal before the law, and are entitled to the equal protection of the law; and article 21 (i) guarantees the right to counsel in criminal proceedings, and obligates the Republic to prove legal aid services to accused persons, who are unable to afford the services of counsel to ensure the protection of their rights.
Legal Aid is defined as free or subsidized services rendered to persons in order to promote and strengthen access to justice, involving criminal and civil, as well as administrative disputes in both formal (court) and traditional justice systems.
The Legal Aid System is to help “marginalized women, widows, children, pretrial detainees and indigent Liberians” to resolve their legal problems by ensuring that the accused persons, who are unable to pay for legal fees are not denied justice.
As part of the validation, AFELL has resolved over 273 gender-based violence cases against women and vulnerable children in the year 2018.
Attorney Vivian Neal, President of AFELL said her organization used its legal aid program to resolve 245 cases through mediation while 28 were settled through legal representation before the courts.
Atty. Neal named persistent non-support, abandonment, domestic violence, and Child custody as some of the cases handled during the period and noted that these cases were resolved on a free of charge basis with support from UNDP.
The AFELL President said due to the importance attached on legal education and information, her organization has held series of trainings on sexual gender-based violence and other international instruments that support the rights of women and children in the Country.
The AFELL’s boss lauded UN Women for the overwhelming support to the crafting and validation of the Legal Aid Policy, promising AFELL’s continuous support to gender equality especially women rights in all sectors of the society.
Also speaking at the ceremony, UN Women Project Officer, Kofi Ireland said UN women takes access to justice seriously as it protects and maintains peace and stability of any nation.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean has described the Legal-Aid policy of Liberia as a significant document that will positively impact both the locals and government actors.
Minister Dean speaking in simple Liberian English said once the policy is approved, it will ensure access to justice for all Liberians irrespective of status in society.
According to the Justice Minister, court dockets are overcrowded due to pre-trial detention, an action he said Legal Aid personnel will help minimize across the country.
He said the Liberian Government will support the full implementation of the Legal Aid policy to afford ordinary Liberians or public officials accused of committing crimes to be represented in a court of jurisdiction.
The one-day validation conference on the Legal Aid policy of Liberia was organized by the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, the Carter Center and UN Women.
Minister Dean called would-be beneficiaries of Legal Aid not to misuse the opportunity afforded them to breach the laws with notion that Legal Aid personnel will come to their aid.
Institutions Providing Legal Aid Legal Aid providers comprised both state and non-state actors to include the MoJ, the Judiciary and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as students attending various universities.
Some of the prominent non-state institutions are the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), TCC, the Center for Law and Human Rights Education, the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND), Center for the Promotion of Human Rights, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FOHRD), Prison Fellowship Liberia among others.
Also, the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) provides legal aid to indigents through their pro-bono services. Legal Aid Governance There will be an establishment of a governance structure with an autonomous board of directors to supervise, monitor, accredit and mobilize and manage the legal aid funds.