It is widely recognised that an important challenge for Sierra Leone as it rebuilds its state institutions is to strengthen the accountability and responsiveness of these institutions to citizens, as unaccountable and unresponsive governance has historically been a driver of conflict within the country. It is in this context that this working paper seeks to examine the extent to which the justice system in Sierra Leone is currently accountable to citizens; what the main challenges are for building more accountable justice institutions; and whether government and donor initiatives to strengthen and reform the justice system are improving accountability.
The paper's findings include:
Strengthening the justice sector has been a priority for Sierra Leone’s governments since the end of the conflict since establishing the rule of law is an essential survival function for any state, and especially so in Sierra Leone, where lack of justice was identified as a root cause of conflict.
There are a range of social and economic barriers that prevent citizens from accessing justice, including poverty, discrimination, social exclusion, and lack of education and information.
In particular, many people are disadvantaged within the formal court system because this operates in English, which only people with a high level of education speak.
The ability of ordinary citizens to access the services that justice institutions provide is one of the most basic criteria in developing a functioning justice system and there is a need to engage more with the customary institutions through which the majority of people seek justice.
It is important that efforts to address inequality within the justice system are linked with broader measures to address discrimination within society and empower marginalised groups.
Building the capacity of justice institutions provides important opportunities to strengthen the accountability of these institutions.
Donors working in the justice sector should align behind the government's Justice Sector Development Strategy and provide significant funding towards its implementation.