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Access to justice continues to be a challenge in Sierra Leone from both normative and practical standpoints. The country operates a bifurcated legal system that simultaneously incorporates features of customary or traditional law, and a formal system based on English common law practice. Immediately after the civil war, it was estimated that about “85% of Sierra Leoneans fall under the jurisdiction of customary law”[1]. Although progress has been made in expanding access to justice since that time, cost, from both the perspectives of service providers and users, remains a major barrier to accessing services.[2] It is within this context that the ‘Understanding Costs and Benefits of Community-Based Justice Services in Sierra Leone’ research project has been commissioned by the International Development and Research Centre (Canada) and the Open Society Institute for West Africa (OSIWA), to assess and compare the relative direct and indirect benefits of different justice services at the sub-national/community level in Sierra Leone, measured against their attendant costs. The study is also aimed at identifying innovative measures, in terms of use of technology and funding, to support community-based justice services in Sierra Leone. As the study is framed around the activities of stakeholders in community-based justice service delivery, i.e., governmental institutions, community-based organizations and civil society organizations, it is expected that the findings from the cost-benefit analysis will inform recommendations on the strategies and approaches to scaling up access to justice and the provision of individual and community-oriented legal services in Sierra Leone.

The study will particularly focus on two thematic areas: first, family law, including child and spousal support; and second, property, land and tenancy issues. Mapping out the uses and responses to community-based justice mechanisms within the thematic areas will be integral in the study, due to their impact on daily life on the ultimate beneficiaries, i.e., the service users. Ultimately, the principal objective of the research project is to contribute to the body of knowledge in approaches to expanding access to justice services in Sierra Leone in a cost-effective, strategic and sustainable manner with optimal benefits for service users. The research team will track a set of outcomes of legal services, given that understanding effective access to justice requires a focus on the attendant benefits, notably the ability of people to address their justice problems in a fair, cost efficient, timely and effective manner. Thus, the recommendations will be evidence-based and practical, highlighting the key considerations for future programming and response to justice service delivery in Sierra Leone.

The project is being implemented by the Centre for Alternative Policy Research and Innovation (CAPRI) Sierra Leone.

[1] Kean, et al (2004:5) Sierra Leone:  Legal and Judicial Sector Assessment, Washington: World Bank.

[2] Cost in this study is defined broadly to mean monetary, opportunity and intangible costs.

Access to Justice: About
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