The Legal Aid Board (LAB) has concluded a two-day Training of Trainers (ToT) for management staff and paralegals in the Western Area, legal aid counsel including those in the provinces, and Regional Managers on the electoral laws ahead of the June 24 elections.
The training took place at the 3rd Floor of the Freetown City Council’s administrative building at Wallace Johnson Street in Freetown.
The aimed was to capacitate staff on the Public Elections Act 2022, Political Parties Act 2022 and other related laws with special emphasis on rights, responsibilities of citizens and electoral offences and penalties for same.
Speaking during the opening session, the Executive Director of the Board, Ms Fatmata Claire Carlton-Hanciles, outlined the significance of the training, adding that immediately after this training, those trained will be replicating similar trainings to staff in the provinces, partners including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), district human rights committees, traditional leaders, etc.
The move she added was to capacitate not only the Board’s staff but the hundreds of other partners of the Board and the general populace on what the laws say in order to ensure peaceful and non-violent elections in June 2023.
Ms Carlton-Hanciles also spoke about the Board’s “Anti-Election Violence Campaign” which she said was kick-started on Wednesday 8 March 2023 with a town hall meeting that drew 634 participants in Freetown. The meeting she said marks the beginning of a series of town hall meetings that will be held around the country aimed at educating people on free, fair and peaceful elections before, during and after the June 24 elections. The reason she emphasized was that she “does not want to see people involve in electoral offence”; noting that “when the cells and correctional centers are full, the heat comes back to the Board”.
She called on legal aid counsel especially those in the provinces to work with their managers and other partners to organize these meetings, stating that the 2018 elections were free, fair and peaceful partly because of similar moves made by the Board.
Ms Carlton-Hanciles also used the opportunity to admonish clients including those released from correctional centers by the Board not to involve into anything that will land them into trouble such as tearing of campaign posters, billboards, etc.
In a Power-Point presentation on the Public Elections Act 2022 with particular reference to Part XI of the Act, the Facilitator who also doubles as the Human Resource Manager of the Board, Counsel Cyril Taylor-Young, highlighted some of the issues that amount to electoral offences – aiding and abetting of another person to register as a voter more than once; making of a false statement in an application for registration as a voter; making, preparing, printing or possession of a document or paper purporting to be a Register of Voters; destroying, mutilating, defacing, removing or making of an alteration in any notice or document required for the purpose of registration or voting under this Act; destroying, taking, opening or otherwise interfering with a ballot box or packet or ballot papers then in use for the purposes of the election; making a mark on a ballot paper issued to a person other than to himself; selling or attempting to sell or offer to sell any voter card whether issued in the registration name of any voter or not; buying or offering to buy any voter registration card whether on his own behalf or on behalf of any other person; obstruction of campaign processions or meetings; tearing of campaign posters or billboard; fraudulently putting into a ballot box anything other than the ballot paper which a voter is authorised by law to put in it, etc.
Counsel Young also explained some of the offences relating to staff of Electoral
Commission of Sierra Leone, noting that polling staff who willfully falsifies the count of the votes or willfully makes a false return commits an offence and is liable to conviction to a fine of not less than 20,000 Leones or to imprisonment for a term of five years or to both the fine and imprisonment.
He said other offences also include obtaining or attempts to obtain information as
to the candidate for whom a voter in the station is about to vote or has voted; interfering or attempts to interfere with a voter when casting his/her vote; communication of information as to the name or serial number of the ballot paper issued to a voter at the station, etc.
In another presentation on Parts XIII and XIV of the same Act which deal with Elections Offences and Petitions Court and Election Campaign Period, the facilitator Counsel Morrison Karimu, talked about the jurisdiction of the court; trial of elections offences and elections petitions; timeframe or period for petition matters to be heard; nullification of results; appeal from court, etc.
Speaking on electoral offences relating to children and their Rights, the facilitator Counsel Ibrahim Bangura who also doubles as the Board’s juvenile lawyer, defined who a child is as prescribed in Cap 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act and the Child Right Act 2007.
He explained that since children are not expected to take part in elections thus the law does not give or make any preferential treatment for them, noting that all offences relating to adults in the Public Elections Act 2022 also apply to children. He explained that a juvenile can be prosecuted for electoral offences but that such should be in tandem with other related laws.
Speaking on the Political Parties Act 2022, the facilitators Counsel Mohamed Korie who also doubles as the National Supervisor and Counsel Patrick Kamara, Resident Counsel for Kenema district took the participants through on what constitute a political party, composition of the Political Parties Regulation Commission (PPRC), conduct of political parties, etc.
The duo explained that political parties and their supporters are required not to involve in violence, thuggery and not to use obscene language or provocative words, songs and incendiary or inciting statements. Political parties they added shall not create or maintain private militias.
A representative of the Office of National Security (ONS), Sia Wango Alhassan-Kabia also made a statement while presentations on practical issues relating to anti-election violence campaign were also made by Regional Managers North, Mohamed Jalloh; South Martin Moriwai and East James Thomas Mafinda.
The training was climaxed with questions and answers and a statement on staffing matters by the Human Resource Manager, Counsel Cyril Taylor-Young.