The externs in professional mode

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Former Extern Continues to Work for AdvocAid

Alimamy Koroma undertook a term time externship at AdvocAid and developed such a passion for our work that even after the externship he has continued to volunteer with us.

Due to his dedication and commitment, AdvocAid have given him a formal placement as a legal intern and raised funds to provide him with a stipend. Alimamy is a pleasure to work with and has a real passion for vulnerable people. His main role is to provide legal advice and assistance to women detained at police stations and at the court lock up in Freetown.

Photo: Alimamy on a monitoring trip to Makeni with Sabrina Mahtani (Executive Director) and Victoria (Makeni Paralegal)

Post-Externship Thoughts

Some Feedback from the Externs about their Experiences


“I can say 100% that the externship experience considerably benefited my legal education. There has been consistent improvement in my college grades since I started the externship, especially in criminal law and Sierra Leone Legal System. Most importantly it has helped me to understand the practical aspects of the law as opposed to just theories and unlike most of my classmates I now feel empowered to provide basic legal advice on everyday issues.

I found the group sessions, funny, interactive but also challenging, especially when I had to compete with others on my case presentation. The group sessions were always something special to look forward too as they allowed me to share what I have been doing whilst catching up on what my colleagues have been up too. I learnt a lot from these sessions. They broadened my externship placement experience in many ways e.g. I came to understand better the complexities of the juvenile justice system from my colleagues at DCI.

I would strongly recommend the legal aid externship programme to any law student. Considering the difficulties we face in terms of regular strike actions, lack of materials and other inadequacies at college, I think it is incumbent on every law student to have an externship experience. Beside the host of opportunities it offers one, the externship experience enables you to put into practice legal knowledge and in doing so to understand legal principles better.”


“During the week of training for the externship, we were taken to court where we met with several magistrates and lawyers and also witnessed court proceedings. I always believed that the court system in our country was smooth but I was appalled to discover that certain aspects were just not so. It would have been very bad for me to discover this when I became a lawyer.

I can now talk to clients with ease and have learned to exercise patience during interviews. The externship programme has helped in developing me to be able to carry out the practical aspects of law.

I would recommend the legal aid externship programme to future students as it provides us law students with a rare opportunity to experience the practical aspects of the law and it will not be new to us when we become pupil barristers.”


“This is one of the greatest opportunities that is available to students which promotes their legal knowledge, perspectives and approach to practical legal issues. It builds you up to face a career as a legal practionner.

A particular aspect of the externship program I sincerely appreciated was the legal education sessions conducted at various schools and prisons. These sessions ignited a desire to update myself on pressing and necessary areas. This I considered a privileged.”


“The court witnessing or observations during the programme has remaining forever etched in my mind as it has changed my perception about the theoretical aspect of the law and the practical aspect.

The group sessions broadened my experience as new cases under different headings from fellow externs are being discussed and my professional skills greatly developed through that.

I think the legal aid externship is an awesome experience that future students can’t miss!


“It has helped improve my interviewing skills greatly and improved my professional tenants in a profound kind of way. The programme helped me to discover that part of me that has immense passion to make the wrongs right.”

Externs Participate in Training by UK Lawyers

Although the externship programme is over, AdvocAid continues to maintain a relationship with the former externs.

On 23 September 2013, the externs were part of a training organised by Project Umubano (some volunteer lawyers from the UK) and AdvocAid. The training covered client care, advanced advocacy skills and pre-trial detention case law. It was a great training and networking opportunity for the externs.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Former Extern Undertakes Work Experience in London!

Hawantu Kamara (a former extern at AdvocAid) is currently in the UK visiting her family. Catherine Seldon (a volunteer lawyer at AdvocAid) was able to organise some work experience for her in the UK. We look forward to hearing about her experiences! In the meantime, a photo of Hawa on a London bus!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Some Memories are Forever

By Alimamy Koroma, Summer Extern, Timap for Justice/ AdvocAid

In the course of our daily lives there are certain things we see that remain etched in our minds for a very long time or sometimes even forever. During my four weeks internship with Timap for Justice/ AdvocAid in Kenema, I saw many things and for a few of them I suppose they would forever be locked in my memory. One such moment obviously is the inexpressible look of pain and agony on the faces of the family of a young driver hacked to death in the early hours of September at Blama Junction whilst on his way to work. He was hacked several times with knives and machetes and his corpse abandoned in a dustbin. His attackers had wrongly believed he was a thief and there was evidence suggesting that the man was on his way to work when he met his gruesome demise.  At the time of his death, the deceased wife was heavily pregnant and there were rumors that his killers knew his identity but were taking revenge following a feud years back that had to do with a love rivalry involving one of the accused. On the first appearance of the seven accused persons, before magistrate Mohamed Stevens, hundreds of drivers flooded the courtroom apparently to show solidarity with their fallen comrade but also as one of them put it to me “to ensure that these politically connected suspects are not left off the hook for their heinous crime”.

Financial Scams

I also cannot forget the day when hundreds of furious people had gathered at the Kenema Police station to inflict mob justice on five employees of a sham financial institution dubiously called LIFT OUT OF POVERTY. It purported to ameliorate the suffering of the people through granting of loans but on the condition that potential beneficiaries first demonstrate their ability to repay the loan by making a certain contribution for a period of time after which it would be returned to them plus their loans. The idea was the brainchild of two Nigerian 419ers who were clever enough not to surface relying on their Sierra Leonean employees to do the marketing and administration of their dubious scheme. In the first month, the supposed humanitarian financial institution kept its promise and repaid everybody what they had contributed, informing them that they were now qualified to apply for loans after demonstrating that they have a stable source of income. As you would have guessed more people fell for the scam, buying a registration form for le 30,000 and making daily contributions for the whole of August. A date was set for the formal launching of the institution and the payment of the first set of loans. Invitations were dished out almost to everybody and institution that mattered in Kenema; a huge hall was rented and bands were even hired. 

To cut a long story short, the big day came and neither the Nigerians and more importantly nor the money were to be found. The previous day the Nigerian fraudsters had convinced their Sierra Leonean counterparts to withdraw all the monies from the bank and after a simple exchanges of box, they had escaped with over five hundred million Leones. Their  Sierra Leonean business partners only found out what had happened when after waiting for a long time without seeing the Nigerians decided to open the two boxes and to their utter dismay found only papers and inscribed on them were the words “Sierra Leoneans say no to Exploitation”. The Nigerian con men certainly had a dry sense of humor! Hundreds of people had hence gathered at the police to inflict mob justice on the detained employees. But the police would not let anyone touch them. The few who were lucky not to have fallen for the scam labeled victims as stupid and greedy. They asked “how could anyone not have seen the handwriting on the wall? I think they certainly have a point to their argument, especially when one considers the fact that this is not the first or second time a similar thing has happened in less than three years. But again, I have always argued that ultimately part of the blame goes to the government for its failure to protect the unsuspecting masses from the hands of 419ers. The Financial Institution Act of 2011 made numerous provisions for the granting of license to financial institutions operating in Sierra Leone. But like most other acts, they were ignored. No license was issued to LIFT OUT OF POVERTY and nobody cared to ask and as always the poor had paid dearly. The detained employees who apparently had a good relationship with the police were never locked in cell; they were  put in open detention and after a few days released without any charge. No explanations were given and I am still unsure whether it was the right or wrong decision.

Loitering Offences

Another permanent memory from Kenema would definitely be the sight of 15 youths hugging each other in the dock after the magistrate had discharged them of the offence of loitering. More than twenty of them had been arrested on the 13th of September 2012 between 9 am to 12 PM around “How for do park”. Those who paid bribes were immediately released and those who could not had spent nearly a week in prison on remand before their cases were finally heard. Right at the police station, I did everything to plead with the officers for their release at least on bail citing numerous legislations, but the officers would have none of it and they were subsequently charged. On the day of their trial, I managed to offer them a brief legal advice as they were all unrepresented. In particular, I encouraged them not to be frightened by the courts and also to ensure they tell their own side of the stories and cross examine the police witness. They followed my advice and it worked with the magistrate who ruled that under section 13 subsection 1 paragraph e of the Criminal Procedures Act 1965 someone can only be arrested for loitering between the hours of 6pm and 6 am. My clients were freed and no amount of words can express the delight on their faces. I felt like a champion.

Assisting a 16 Year Old Girl in Detention

And finally I can never forget FFK, the 16 year old girl I found in Kenema police cell almost dying form diarrhea or (it could have even be cholera). At the time she was the only girl in the tight and filthy cell caged with over 10 men and a 15 year old boy. Before you start asking questions, Kenema does not have a separate cell for women and children. On investigation, I learned that the cells originally meant for women and children got destroyed and now everyone is just caged together. The best they can do for women and children is to put them in open detention in extreme cases but as one officer told me after a pregnant  suspect in open detention once escaped, they now hardly grant such concessions.

Part of my job was to check the detention list for the day with the lock up officer every morning to ascertain how many of my clients have been charged to court on that day, how many were released during my absence and crucially how many new suspects were brought in. I sat alongside three police officers to cross check the detention list amidst shouts from suspects, locked up few yards from me. This was usual and they would be calling to complain, or to see whether we have been able to contact their sureties or plead with their IO (Investigating officer) to consider bail or release them all together. From the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something strange, something dying. She was being dwarfed by the male suspects who were shouting for my attention. I stood before the cell bars and pleaded that they allowed the girl from the rear come in front. After a slight hesitation, they complied. I greeted her and introduced myself. She seemed very shy and reluctant to speak but I encouraged her and convinced her that I was there to help her. Then she opened up and began to tell me her story. “I am accused of stealing a wedding ring by my former employer” she said” I have been working for them as a maid for over a year and a half without pay. So I had decided to quit the job. On that particular day after work I had returned home but found out that everywhere was locked and the family was away. I had taken bath at my employer’s place before returning home and so my clothes were wet and I was feeling sick . Because I couldn’t access the house I decided to return to my employer’s house again and I put on the only clothes I could lay hands on which were those of the daughter of my employer with whom I am about of the same age. When her mum saw me with the clothes she was horrified. She ordered me to take it off to which I promptly complied. And shortly after she raised alarm that her wedding ring had gone missing and within minutes I was locked up”.

When I met FKK(pseudonym used to protect her identity)  she had already been in police for four days without charge, despite chapter three of our sacred constitution making it explicit that save for serious offences an accused cannot  be detained for more than 72 hours without charge. She had also not eaten throughout her detention due to serious diarrhea and she looked badly in need of medical help. At 16, it was also contrary to the CHILD RIGHTS ACTS OF 2007 to detain her together with adults. After studying the detention file, I quickly traced the Investigating officer in charge of her case. I advocated for her immediate release at least on bail on the ground that she had exceeded the legal limit on detention and that her health was deteriorating rapidly. And thankfully the police agreed on the condition that she had credible sureties. We later contacted her parents and after agreeing to comply to the bail condition, FKK was released. We advised her relatives to rush her to the hospital immediately and I thought they would do exactly that.

But almost an hour later, as I walked along a street not far from the police, on my way for lunch, I saw a crowd gathered at the gate of commercial bank. The curiosity side of me prevailed and I decided to have a look. My natural guess was that it was an “okada accident” or maybe a voodoo priest, two common sights in this part of Sierra Leone. To my greatest horror, standing in the middle of the crowd was FKK being scolded by her relatives to produce the ring which they alleged she had given to her boyfriend. I tried to intervene but the crowd could not listen to my pleas for passage. Drained by malaria myself I decided to let go and may be trace her house later. Unfortunately I later realized from my records that her address didn’t have any number. Like other places in Kenema it is just an area. We could not trace any of her relatives either.

I was very disappointed that I could not follow up on her, always worrying about what could have happened-Whether the ring was found or God forbid she had died from her bout with diarrhea/cholera. I kept checking with the police to see whether she had been rearrested or what. No answers. I wanted to know whether her sureties kept coming but nothing. I thought poor girl.

And even as I boarded a bus heading back for Freetown on completion of my internship, I realized that I was looking at every young girl eagerly hoping it could be her. But I never saw her again. All what remains of her to me was a mental picture of a suffering young girl persecuted by her employer, police and sorry to add her family. Now this is an image that stays with anyone forever.

Monday, 22 October 2012

2 Weeks in Kenema

By Alimamy Koroma, Summer Extern, Timap for Justice

I am having the best college vacation ever thanks to a four week internship with Timap for Justice in Kenema. This opportunity was made possible by Advocaid to my very self and two other law students (who are interning in other parts of the country with different organizations) from FBC in appreciation of our excellence and dedication during a 10 month externship program. The rationale is to broaden our experience into practical legal work and also expose us to the considerable challenges faced by ordinary Sierra Leoneans in the provinces in accessing justice.

Timap for Justice is a leading human rights organization committed to providing concrete and practical solutions to justice problems confronting ordinary Sierra Leoneans. Started in 2003, the organization has through the use of paralegals to compliment for the nationwide shortage of lawyers, been largely successful in resolving disputes through mediation and advocacy. It also helps people navigate the often complex legal system.

Now nearly two weeks into my internship in Kenema, I am beginning to have a better understanding of the justice issues confronting local people, their causes and how they could be possibly addressed. I have also come to like Kenema, a city which before now I had never visited and after two weeks of residence I am now even considering to be my workplace after studies!

In the course of my internship duties over the past two weeks, I have spent countless hours in police, prison and court mostly giving basic legal advice and assistance, delivering legal education, supporting accused persons through the court process, interviewing and counseling clients, and also learning the intricacies of court and criminal procedures. I have been inundated by what I have seen thus far. Early signs indicate that while the problems of corruption, police brutality, lengthy trials, shortage of lawyers, institutional incapacity, are common problems affecting the judiciary throughout Sierra Leone, they are even more pronounced and entrenched in Kenema. Freetown for all its problems still enjoys a relatively better monitoring system of judicial proceedings, higher literacy rate and a better consciousness of human rights issues among her residents; factors conspicuously lacking in Kenema. Further compounding the justice problems here is the adoption of a dual legal system as provided for by section 170 of the 1991 constitution and the revised Local Courts Act of 2011. These provisions confer limited civil and criminal jurisdiction on local courts to handle issues relating to customary law. They are presided over by local officials and pursuant to section 15 of the said act legal practitioners are barred from appearing before them. In that a substantial part of customary law often makes a butchery of the principles of natural justice and coupled with the apparent lack of a clear understanding among the people on what courts to take their cases, the result has been a deep confusion resulting in grave unfairness and dissatisfaction. Section 29 0f the Local Courts Act 1963 however makes provisions for persons aggrieved by the decisions of local courts to appeal to the District Appeal Court which is chaired by a Magistrate.

I have also been profoundly disturbed by the frequency of certain crimes in Kenema, especially those affecting women and children. Half of all the cases in High Court are sexually related offences  including unlawful carnal knowledge, indecent assault, abuse of young girl, rape, sodomy etc.  And when one considers the fact that victims and their parents are often unwilling to pursue these cases, preferring instead to make compromises with perpetrators one begins to have a feeling that the figures reaching court might greatly underestimate the realities.  
Furthermore, there is unquestionably a growing awareness that such crimes are punishable and should not be settled out of court, yet many men clearly influenced by traditional values of chauvinism continue to consider the involvement of human rights organizations or even the police as intrusion in to their “properties”. Regrettably also, the Family Support Division of the Police which has the mandate to investigate and prosecute such issues, still has a long way to go in terms of competence and training in handling the cases. This is especially so when one considers the emotional trauma victims of such abuses usually suffer, which may range from social stigma in the case of rape and even homelessness in the case of domestic violence.

My other disappointment so far springs from the ill treatment of persons facing criminal proceedings. Most of my clients complain of being beaten by police during arrest and I am a witness to the unbearable filth and starvation in these detention facilities. At present, there is an outbreak of a contagious skin disease in the male prison, thereby denying me the opportunity to render sentenced male prisoners any legal support or education. The fact that there are no separate detention facilities in police for women and children probably sums up the point that Kenema lacks way behind when it comes to the treatment of detainees.

Despite the aforementioned difficulties, I have to say there have also been some high points in these remarkable two weeks of internship. The extraordinary willingness of some police officers and court officials to serve in the face of low salaries is one worth mentioning. Two standing examples are the Head of Interpol at the Kenema Police Station and the presiding Magistrate. The latter,  a graduate of FBC himself,  fully understands the difficulties law students face and reflects my idea of what values an officer of the court should espouse-humility, professionalism and selflessness. The highest point for me though has to be the immeasurable feeling of accomplishment I enjoy every time I help someone accesses justice whether it is helping release a juvenile unduly detained by police or explaining to unrepresented female prisoners what to expect in court.

I have a sense that given the alarming shortage of lawyers in the provinces (Actually only five based in the whole of Kenema),  paralegals and of course law students if supported would play an important role in reducing the justice problems of our people outside Freetown, which by the way comprises more than eighty percent of the population. And history has painfully taught us of what happens when injustice is allowed to reign. We surely do no not want to walk that brutal path of civil war again. Do we?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Summer Externship Placements Begin in the Provinces

We are pleased to announce that the summer externship placements started this week in the provinces.

  • Alimamy Koroma is placed with Timap for Justice/ AdvocAid in Kenema
  • Esther Vivien Kabia is placed with Access to Justice Law Centre in Makeni
  • Anrite Thomas is based with Brac in Port Loko

All the externs have received a stipend to support their time in the provinces.

Sierra Leone has a mere 7 lawyers resident in the provinces where 80% of the population reside (around 4.8 million people). We hope that the summer externship in the provinces will support the excellent work of the organisations providing access to justice in the provinces, mainly through the provision of paralegal services. We also hope it will open the eyes of the students to the justice needs in these areas and inspire them to continue supporting such work upon qualification.

Blog posts about the students' experiences will be posted in the next few weeks.