“Starting Where the Law Finishes”: An Analysis of the Prerogative of Mercy in Sierra Leone

In August 2016, Rebecca Agliolo – a Law Student at the University of Cambridge – volunteered remotely for AdvocAid. One of the outcomes was an interesting analysis of “the Prerogative of Mercy”, which offers offenders the opportunity of retrospective pardon. Prerogative of Mercy: Background Lapses of the criminal justice system are inevitable in even the most exacting of legal systems. Whether through lack of information, violation of civil rights or human fallibility, occasionally innocent individuals are erroneously convicted of a crime. In most situations, cases are appealed through the judicial system. However, where due process has been exhausted, the Prerogative of Mercy provides an extra-judicial remedy. Perhaps this is why the Prerogative of Mercy is said to “start where the law finishes”.   The prerogative traces its origins to the British tradition, as a form of retrospective mercy offered by the monarch. Today a discretionary power typically vested in either the monarch or head of state, the Prerogative of Mercy functions to ameliorate the harshness of sentencing or alleviate miscarriages of justice; most commonly, an offender may be pardoned, or have his sentence commuted.   In Sierra Leone, the purpose of the Prerogative of Mercy is divorced from its typical function in historical and international contexts. The President may grant a ‘Presidential Pardon’, which is exercised twice a year: on New Year and on Sierra Leone’s Independence Day. The Presidential Pardon is seen to be a gesture of goodwill and celebration.   However, the legal and political backdrop of the Presidential Pardon is not entirely a cause for celebration. In this article I shall first outline the typical functioning of the Prerogative of...

AdvocAid Urges the President to Sign the Safe Abortion Act

12 February 2016: AdvocAid have today released a briefing paper urging the President of Sierra Leone to sign the Safe Abortion Act 2015 and thereby enhance the human rights of women and prevent needless deaths. The paper comes just one week after they released an open letter to President Ernest Bai Koroma – alongside Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and four other local NGOs – to sign into law the Safe Abortion Act 2015. The Act was passed by Parliament in December 2015, but is yet to be signed into law by the President, due to concerns raised by Sierra Leone’s religious leaders. Currently, it is a criminal offence for a woman in Sierra Leone to have an abortion, or for someone to provide her with such a service, unless the mother’s life is at risk. Such restrictions contravene numerous international and regional commitments the country has made, on the Rights of Women in Africa. In the decade in which they have operated in Sierra Leone, AdvocAid have represented a number of women that have been arrested due to illegal abortions, including the case of Joan (name changed to protect her identity), a nurse convicted in July 2009 of the manslaughter of a young schoolgirl, who allegedly came to her for abortion services, but later died. Joan was sentenced to 6-years imprisonment. She denies the allegation and the autopsy report was inconclusive to show that Joan’s actions led to the death of the schoolgirl. AdvocAid attempted to lodge an appeal for Joan, but her High Court file was missing, and by the time the matter was ready for hearing, she...

AdvocAid’s work featured in IRIN news report

AdvocAid’s work, particularly our recent research report on Women, Debt and Detention, was featured in an IRIN news report (below). SIERRA LEONE: Women, debt and detention Photo: Otto Bakano/IRIN Juveniles in a police cell in a Sierra Leone, where women are being detained for owing debt FREETOWN, 11 October 2012 (IRIN) – Many Sierra Leonean women who are unable to repay small debts end up in prison for want of decent legal representation after their creditors report them to the police, meaning that civil disputes turn into criminal cases. An estimated 10 percent of all charges issued by the Sierra Leonean police involve the failure to repay small debts. The criminalization of debt upsets the livelihoods of the accused who are mostly petty traders. Their children at times are forced to live with them in detention and their incarceration often breaks up families and deepens poverty, said Advocaid, a Sierra Leonean civil society group helping women and children offenders. Ignorance of legal rights and an outdated law contribute to the trend in which debt disputes turn into criminal cases. The crime of “fraudulent conversion” is based on Sierra Leone’s 1916 Larceny Act. The charge relates to a person’s inability to repay debts. “Why are you serving a five-year prison sentence when you owe somebody just US$100,” Advocaid’s interim director Simitie Lavaly told IRIN. “By just providing a lawyer you can save someone’s life.” In 2006 when Advocaid began offering help to women imprisoned for debt defaulting and other offences, there were 50 women in the main prison in the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown unable to raise bail or afford...

AdvocAid and GIZ produce Handbook on UN Standards for the Treatment of Female Prisoners

AdvocAid, with the support of GIZ, has developed a Handbook on the United Nations Standards for the Treatment of Female Prisoners. The handbook can be found in the “resources” section of our website or by clicking here. This handbook aims to provide a clear, portable and easy to use guide to the “Bangkok Rules,” adopted by the United Nations in 2010, which outline international standards for the treatment of female prisoners and female offenders. The information is in point form, illustrated with cartoons and referenced with detailed footnotes. It is organised according to prison officials’ duties and functions. The handbook is designed to assist prison officials, prisoners and civil society in fostering enforcement of human rights standards for girls, women and their children in the criminal justice system. The 1st edition of the handbook was used during a 2 day training on the Bangkok Rules from 5 – 6 December 2011 with female prison officers in Freetown. Plans are to extend the training to the provinces next year and to produce a 2nd edition of the handbook following learnings from the trainings. The fantastic illustrations were provided by De Monk, Arts & Media Production, 6/17 Cannon Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone/ 076 470 288/ 033 511 148/ demonkproduction@yahoo.com. Great graphic design by Stephanie Maylon (stephmalyon@googlemail.com)  ...

21 Days: Enough Time to Save Your Neck?

An AdvocAid Briefing Paper concerning restricted time limits to appeal for those on death row. Section 64 of the Courts Act 1965 provides 21 days within which to appeal which CANNOT be extended for those sentenced to death. AdvocAid has been championing reform of this provision through advocacy and strategic litigation. AdvocAid Briefing Paper – 21 Days: Enough Time to Save Your...