In Sierra Leone, over half the people in jail have not been convicted of any crime. They should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but instead sit behind bars awaiting trial. Many languish in jail for months or even years, held on trumped-up charges that should be dismissed, unaware of their rights, unaware that they may be eligible for bail, and often unable to understand the language spoken in the courts.
In 2009, Timap for Justice began an innovative project to provide frontlinel legal assistance to pretrial detainees, using local community members who have received basic legal training as paralegals. The results have been impressive: Timap’s paralegals have succeeded in getting inappropriate charges dropped in 28 percent of cases, and have secured bail for an additional 55 percent of suspects.
As a result of Timap’s intervention, more people had charges dropped or were released on bail, and, therefore, fewer were left to waste weeks, or even months, in unnecessary pretrial detention. This 12-page illustrated briefing paper highlights the success achieved.