The Center for Legal Aid Support Services (CLASS) has ended a National Legal Aid Conference in Monrovia, adopting the exercise as an annual national event.
The first session of the conference was held on 30th November at the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute at the Temple of Justice, bringing together legal practitioners, including Prosecuting Lawyers from the Ministry of Justice, Public Defenders lawyers in private practice and magistrates.
Also in attendance were representatives of United Nations agencies in Liberia, including UN Women, UNDP, UN Office on Human Rights and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).
The Chief Executive Officer of CLASS, Atty. George N. King, lauded participants for attending the conference and urged them to be aware that Legal Aid is a missing link of the Liberia Judiciary. He reflected on the adopted resolution of the 2022 National Legal Aid Conference, outlining successes and challenges.
Speaking on the Concept of Legal Aid and its Application in Liberia’s Jurisdiction as it relates to Human Rights and Access to Justice, Atty. King emphasized that legal aid is not a charity but a right under the law consistent with Article 21(i) of the1986 Constitution of Liberia, Chapter 65 of the Civil Procedure Law of Liberia which speaks to indigent representation and Chapter 2 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia which outlines the rights of accused persons and the obligation of the state to observe and protect those rights.
Two guest lecturers from international circles appeared at the event. The first was Drew Engel, the INL Senior Judicial Advisor embedded in the Prosecution Department of the Ministry of Justice in Liberia. He spoke on the topics legal aid and pretrial detention from his experiences in the US, Europe, and Asia, and then shared observations about legal aid and pretrial detention challenges faced in Liberia and proposed some possible solutions.
Mr. Engel reiterated that an accused person has right to counsel and speedy trial, and that said rights are guaranteed by national and international laws, but that justice actors, especially Defense Attorneys, are needed to ensure that the state fully observed and complied with those rights.
He said the state should either timely prosecute or dismiss charges against pretrial detainees rather than unjustified delay.
The Justice and Security Officer at UNDP Liberia, Madam Lisa Karlsson, speaking on the topic, Access to Justice, Human Rights & Pretrial Detention: A Comparative Approach, outlined the need for national budgetary support for legal aid program as well as institutionalizing it for an effective access to justice for juveniles and other vulnerable groups.
Meanwhile, the second day session of the conference was held at the Dominion Christian Fellowship Church at 72nd Junction, Japan Freeway, Paynesville with secondary schools and community members and residents. This session of the conference focused on creating awareness on legal aid and the rights of an accused or suspected persons.
At the end of the conference, young students were amazed to have learned that an accused person has so many rights, pledging to get involved with awareness campaign on the rights of accused or suspected persons beginning with their schools and communities in the interest of justice for all persons who come in conflict with the law. Editing by Jonathan Browne