Improving access to justice in Sierra Leone

12 February 2013

Timap (meaning “stand up”) for Justice is a pioneering effort to provide basic legal services and to improve access to justice in Sierra Leone, using a method that responds to the particularities of Sierra Leone’s socio-legal context, including a dualist legal structure and a shortage of lawyers.

Timap’s frontline is made up of community-based paralegals rather than lawyers. Paralegals address justice issues using a flexible, heterogeneous set of tools. For individual justice-related problems (e.g., a father refuses to pay maintenance), the paralegals provide information, mediate conflicts, and assist ‘clients’ in navigating authorities. For community-level problems (e.g. domestic violence is prevalent in the community, or a mining company unlawfully acquires villagers’ farmlands), they engage in community education and dialogue, advocate for change with authorities, and organize community members to undertake collective action.

The paralegals are supported by lawyers. In severe and intractable cases, the lawyers employ litigation to address injustices which the paralegals cannot handle on their own. Because litigation or even the threat of litigation carries significant weight in Sierra Leone, our capacity to litigate adds strength to our paralegals’ ongoing work as advocates and mediators.

The programme strives to solve clients’ justice problems—thereby demonstrating concretely that justice is possible—and at the same time to cultivate the agency of the communities among which it works.

Timap has been recognized by government and independent institutions for developing a creative, effective methodology for providing justice services in the difficult and complex context of rural Sierra Leone.

Read more about this successful innovation