Founding Director | Timap for Justice
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.
1. Can you briefly describe the innovation in terms of the problem(s) it tries to solve and why is it necessary
The misadministration of justice and the distance between the people and their government were among the root causes of Sierra Leone’s civil war and are among the greatest challenges facing the country today. Many Sierra Leoneans, especially rural Sierra Leoneans, perceive the legal system and the government in a way not unlike the way they perceive the workings of black magic: as things to be feared rather than understood.
Legal services are hard to come by. There are only about 250 practising lawyers in the country with about a dozen based outside the capital Freetown. Moreover, under Sierra Leone’s dualist legal structure, lawyers are barred from practising in the customary courts; yet these are the institutions of most practical relevance to the majority of Sierra Leoneans. For these reasons, and based on their experiences in the field, a coalition of human rights organizations came together in 2003 to initiate a programme to deliver basic legal services at the chiefdom level through community-based paralegals.
Paralegals employ mediation, advocacy, education, and community organizing to assist citizens in addressing a wide range of justice problems, including intra-community breaches of rights (e.g. a widow is wrongfully denied inheritance of the marital home) as well as justice issues between people and authorities (e.g. corruption, abuse of authority, failures in service delivery).
The paralegals are trained, supported and supervised by lawyers. In severe and intractable cases, the lawyers employ litigation and high-level advocacy to address injustices which the paralegals cannot handle on their own.
2. What makes your innovation unique?
Legal services in Sierra Leone, as elsewhere, are expensive and difficult to obtain. Lawyers are in short supply and very costly. There are about 12 lawyers based in the Provinces where over 75% of the population lives. Furthermore, there is lack of infrastructure and strong state institutions, creating opportunities for corruption, nepotism, and violence., Also, as a result of our legal dualism, customary law is of more relevance to the majority of people, especially in rural Sierra Leone.
Therefore, Timap is a groundbreaking methodology that responds particularly to the challenges listed above: Community-based paralegals (instead of lawyers), from and with knowledge of the community, given training in formal law, the workings of government and paralegal skills, with support from lawyers. It is not only cost-effective (as compared with employing lawyers), but provides the flexibility (in the wide range of tools including mediation, advocacy, etc a paralegal can use) and legitimacy, both of which traditional legal representation lacks.
Finally, in many areas of rural Sierra Leone, there are no comparable services. The choice is simple: raise money to hire a lawyer from Freetown or take the law into your hands. Also, many commentaries, including the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted that access to justice was one of the root causes of the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone. So Timap becomes the only hope ordinary people have to fight against injustice.
3. What triggered the development of the innovation?
At the end of the 10-year civil war, many organizations and individuals realized just how important a role lack of access to justice played in the conflict. Many of the gruesome atrocities committed were in reprisals; justice institutions including the police, prisons and judiciary bore the brunt, as many of their members were killed and institutions torched. There was also a realization that the government was crippled (with the infrastructure almost completely destroyed and combatants scattered all over) and that civil society needed to act.
4. Which persons and organisations were involved in the development and what role did they play?
Timap started as a small project coordinated by a Sierra Leonean lawyer, Simeon Koroma, on behalf of a coalition of 47 NGOs/CSOs known as the National Forum for Human Rights, with seed funding from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and technical support through Vivek Maru (an American lawyer, who was OSJI Fellow at the time). Both Simeon Koroma and Vivek Maru co-founded what is known today as Timap. They are in turn grateful to the original 13 paralegals, as well as all those who helped shape and continue to influence the growth of Timap’s methodology.
5. What kind of resistance have you encountered and how have you overcome it?
Resistance has come from both customary and formal institutions.
Customary: The work of our paralegals, in a way, challenges or conflicts with what chiefs do, such as settling disputes within the community. The marked difference is that chiefs do so for a fee and mostly without any regard for the law and legal processes. Naturally, our paralegals (who are carrying out mediations, among others for free) were perceived as rivals, competing for the same space. In some places, the chiefs (who still have considerable influence in these communities) asked people not to come to our offices.
Response: We engaged in extensive dialogue with community elders, chiefs and ordinary members. We created a Community Oversight Board in each chiefdom, a voluntary body of 4 members, all appointed by the community. Their functions include acting as a cushion between the organization and the community (especially chiefs), provide oversight for our paralegals, and help to direct Timap’s work in the community.
Today, chiefs not only participate in our many programmes, including weekly mobile clinics and community meetings, they are also responsible for referring almost half of the cases we work on.
Formal institutions: This has come mostly from the judiciary and the Bar Association. In Sierra Leone, paralegals are still not recognized as such by any law. With the same old “protectionist” excuse, both the Bar and the judiciary have expressed concern over quality assurance and impersonation.
Response: We launched the Timap Litigation Corps to encourage more lawyers from the private Bar to interact with paralegals and to familiarize with the programme. We further approached big law firms with very touching and clear-cut cases for pro bono work. Slowly, we developed a circle of ‘friends of Timap’ within the Bar, and this lessened the opposition to paralegals.
With the judiciary, as the main concern was the quality of training, we opened discussions on ways to coordinate and evaluate the quality of training our paralegals receive. We started with the development of a joint curriculum for paralegal trainings to be held in the newly formed Judicial and Legal Training Institute (JLTI), run by the judiciary. It was a long and painful process, but with the assistance of a joint donor (GIZ), we were able to finally agree on a curriculum and, in August of this year, we completed the first set of joint trainings (between the Judiciary and Timap) of paralegals—the first at the JLTI. We are presently planning for the next set of trainings to be held in November this year.
6. How did you make the goals realistic and attainable, and when will quick wins be available?
The programme began on a small scale in order to focus on the development and refinement of its methods. After discussions with chiefdom authorities and community members, five chiefdoms were selected. The programme coordinators engaged in informal community needs assessments in each chiefdom. These assessments aimed to identify justice problems and to begin to flesh out exactly what role paralegals can play. Findings from the assessments helped the coordinators to shape the first paralegal training.
The needs assessments revealed justice problems that arise between ordinary chiefdom residents, such as domestic violence and child abandonment, as well as justice problems that arise between the people and their authorities, such as favoritism by customary officials and corruption in government services. These problems are governed by (and sometimes caused by) an overlapping set of customary and formal legal institutions.
Timap’s first paralegals were recruited and hired from the chiefdoms where they worked. All of our paralegals have at least a secondary school education and many have university degrees. They have undergone intensive training in law, the workings of the government, and paralegal skills. We continue to train and supervise the paralegals and at present occasionally rotate paralegals to different chiefdoms so that skills may be complemented and experienced paralegals may train newcomers.
7. Will the innovation affect other organizations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
This innovation has an effect on both the formal and customary justice sectors. Considering the socio-legal context of Sierra Leone (including legal dualism, paucity of lawyers and failed state institutions), Timap’s model (of a frontline of community based paralegals backstopped by lawyers) will always have an effect on other service providers. Our work at the police, court and prisons including monitoring, advocacy, tracing sureties and witnesses, legal education, and referrals have facilitated the release (or early charge) of thousands of suspects and accused persons. Our paralegals are trained to identify early warning signs and to respond to justice problems within the legal process. In time, these institutions have acknowledged the importance of paralegals and our role within these organizations is expanding.
8. How was the development funded and what were reasons for the financing organisation?
The seed funding for Timap for Justice was provided by the Open Society Justice Initiative or OSJI (part of the Open Society Institute). Sierra Leone was just emerging from a gruesome conflict and there was need to provide grassroots justice service to fill the gap. The costs of the war were still being counted; lack of infrastructure, failed state institutions, corruption, violence and human rights abuses. The government was in no position to implement programmes like Timap. For these reasons, a coalition of Sierra Leonean NGOs (National Forum for Human Rights or NFHR) and OSJI launched this project to fill the void and complement justice institutions, from the bottom.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovation that are most essential to make it work?
- Creative services in an institutional vacuum—wide range of issues, wide range of tools
- Litigation and the Colour of law
- Agency and community level action
- A synthetic orientation toward the dualist legal structure: building bridges and internal justice development within the customary system.
10. How do you measure whether it is a successful innovation?
Our greatest duty is to our communities and individuals with whom we work. We constantly evaluate whether our programme is doing its best to serve them, and try to improve wherever possible. In addition to the national and international recognition of Timap for providing services in the difficult and complex context of Sierra Leone, we have also been commended by our clients and host communities through our User Surveys. Our case intake continues to increase steadily and the demand for our services goes beyond our operational areas. For instance, in 2009, Timap admitted a total of 4,126 cases of which almost 70% were considered as resolved. In 2010, the number rose to 8,745 admitted cases with 5,977 of those cases resolved.
Our close relationship with the communities provides useful feedback on our work, our methodology and areas of intervention. We continue to receive ‘clients’ from communities outside our geographical coverage.
11. How many people or organisations benefit from this innovation now?
This is hard to determine. Directly, Timap covers an area where more than 40% of Sierra Leone’s 6 million population lives. Indirectly, through community education, radio programmes, mobile clinics, advocacy, and so on, this number is even higher.
12. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit your innovation now and in the future?
The context on which the Timap model (of community-based paralegals providing basic justice services in their communities and backstopped by lawyers) is based is not unique to Sierra Leone and can be (and has already been) replicated by other organizations in and out of Sierra Leone. Together with the Open Society Justice Initiative, Timap co-opted 5 organisations to provide paralegal services, adapting the Timap model. The Timap model is also being used in neigbouring Liberia by the Justice and Peace Commission with support from the Carter Center.
The Timap methodology can easily be adapted and scaled up. Several organizations have already done so and many more partnerships are set for next year. The Government of Sierra Leone is also committed to scaling-up Timap-like services nationwide as part of its Justice Sector Reform Strategy (section 3.13 p.18; pp. 52-53).
13. Can you quantify the financial benefits?
It is difficult to quantify the financial benefits as Timap is presently dependent on donor funding and our services are not income generating.
However, we believe our low-cost, effective methodology has an unparallel advantage of saving costs to the state (whether in terms of reducing prison populations or unclogging formal courts) and providing a viable option to poor and vulnerable groups who, otherwise, could suffer serious injustices and pose a threat to the security of the nation.
14. Is the innovation financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
Timap is reliant on donor funding for its operations. However, in the past couple of years, Timap has been looking into diversifying its funding base, by making the case for more government involvement in the delivery of the kinds of justice services Timap paralegals provide, as well as more community involvement and contribution.
Timap is playing a leading role in the discussions on a Legal Aid Act in Sierra Leone which, inter alia, includes paralegals and makes legal aid a right to all indigents. The bill will hopefully be passed this year. It provides for a legal aid board (funded from the government budget and donations) which, in turn, will enter into cooperation agreements with organizations like Timap to provide legal aid services across the country.
Timap has also been pursuing more community involvement and contribution. Last year, we received grants of land from the communities to build our offices, together with local materials and labour.
We are continuing to look for ways to sustain our programme without charging indigents directly for the services we provide.
15. Did you receive any recognition?
Timap has been recognized by independent institutions including the World Bank, the International Crisis Group, and the UN Commission on Legal Empowerment for developing a creative, effective methodology for providing justice services in the challenging and complex context of Sierra Leone.
The Justice Sector Reform Strategy adopted by the Government of Sierra Leone in March 2008 also recognizes Timap, and commits to exploring the possibility of scaling up the provision of Timap-style justice services.
16. What lessons did you learn along the way that could be useful to others?
- Need for community needs assessment at the beginning.
- Flexibility of the programme—allowing the substantive directions of our work to be determined by the specific problems with which clients and community members approach our offices.
- Community involvement and ownership of the programme.
- Adopting a synthetic orientation towards dualist/pluralist legal structures, engaging and seeking to improve formal, religious and customary institutions.
- Combination of legal aid services and social justice-type tools to provide concrete, practical solutions to justice problems.
- The importance of creating an effective monitoring and evaluation system (including baseline, users’ surveys, etc) periodically.