Rebuilding Sierra Leone’s Law Library

Dlab, Dagmar

Lawyers’ Weekly Vol. 23 No. 44 March 26 2004, page 14.

Sierra Leone’s principal law library, located at the High Court in the nation’s capital Freetown, was destroyed by fire during the country’s ten-year civil war, leaving lawyers and judges with minimal legal resources.

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC), a Vancouver-based group seeking to promote human rights internationally, has joined forces with a similar organization in England, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (BHRC), in an effort to re-build Sierra Leone’s legal research infrastructure. These organizations aim to provide textbooks, law materials, law reports and electronic resources to the Special Court and High Court libraries in Freetown.

The High Court is Sierra Leone’s chief source of civil and criminal justice. Prior to its destruction, its library was heavily relied upon by Sierra Leone’s lawyers and judges. It is presently being restored and in need of collections of modern texts, reporters and other legal materials.

A library at Sierra Leone’s Special Court in Freetown is in the process of being created and is also in need of donations. The Special Court was created under the auspices of the United Nations with a mandate to try those responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law and domestic law committed in the country since November 30, 1996. Once the Special Court’s mandate ends, expected to be in about three years, its library will remain for the benefit of the country’s judiciary and legal profession.

Before the civil war, Sierra Leone had a reputation throughout Africa as being an academic center. Chancellor College in Freetown, for example, was the first university on the continent. It is hoped that the joint LRWC-BHRC project will be help restore this reputation.

A former British colony from 1792, Sierra Leone remains a common law jurisdiction and member of the Commonwealth since its independence in 1961. Canadian legal resources are therefore useful to the country’s lawyers and judges.

As Monique Pongracic-Speier, LRWC Project Coordinator remarks: “We need any resources we can get. Lawyers and judges in Sierra Leone simply do not have access to the legal tools they require to do their work.”

So far, over one metric ton of new and donated law books have been shipped as a contribution from the BHRC to the Special Court. LRWC has recently secured a significant donation of legal texts from Canada Law Books, which will be shipped to Sierra Leone soon.

LRWC is calling on the legal community to support this project and would appreciate donations of texts, reporters, loose leafs and practitioners’ materials, new or used, in all areas of law, and especially in the areas of evidence, criminal law, criminal procedure, human rights, constitutional law, international humanitarian and human rights law, and trial and appellate advocacy. LRWC will arrange for safe shipping of all materials to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

LRWC’s work includes campaigning on behalf of lawyers and other human rights advocates who are threatened as a result of their work and improving conditions for lawyers practicing in under-resourced, unsupportive and threatening environments.

For more information about this project or to donate resources please contact LRWC at