Arriving at Lungi International Airport in Sierra Leone after departing Johannesburg, South Africa 17 hours previously, is almost unreasonably exhilarating. The tropical winter heat is refreshing after the long hours of airconditioned plane travel. Of course there is still the ride to the ferry embarkation point and then the cool sea breeze of the ferry trip to one of the wharfs in Freetown.
I was delighted to find Nafie and Keita from the Special Court for Sierra Leone waiting for me at Aberdeen wharf. It had been more than a year since my last visit to Freetown so I welcomed the familiar and friendly faces. Nafie and Keita saw me to Kona Lodge on the Wilberforce Hills in Freetown. Comfortable hotel with wifi network and a view. What more can one need?
Maria Warren brought me up to speed on SierraLII over dinner that evening at Mamba Point. SierraLII is still being run from the Special Court for Sierra Leone although the SierraLII Board are trying to identify the most suitable and sustainable institutional host for SierraLII. The SierraLII coordinator, Bridget Osho, spends most of her time at present trying to scan, OCR and proofread legislation from the library of the Sierra Leone Parliament. A difficult task at the best of times but the next day I was to see just how difficult.
The training scheduled for the second day of my visit, 18 April 2012, had to be rescheduled for the 19thdue to availability of resources. So the first day was spent meeting with Bridget, Maria and Caitlen Longden (a lawyer from Australia volunteering in Sierra Leone). Together we worked on identifying strategies for SierraLII around fundraising, content sourcing, resourcing, hosting and website development. After a delicious and spicy meal of Jolof rice with chicken that had me sweating, Bridget took me to the Sierra Leone Parliament.
In the library, she showed me the copies of legislation and bound law reports which she was scanning. The books are tightly bound and in A5 format. They may not be unbound as they are the only copies. Any scanning of pages must be done manually, one page at a time. As an example, Bridget explained that she had been trying to scan, OCR and proofread the Copyright Act of 2011. It had taken her 2 weeks to date and the work had not yet been completed.
In addition to the current legislation, the library of Parliament also had some old volumes of Parliamentary Debates dating back to the early 1900’s.
The training took place the following day at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. We were all delighted at the attendance. Unfortunately I forgot to take photos before the training began and only remembered after we had finished. By which time the usual process of attrition left us with half the original delegates. Which is to say that there were more delegates than are represented in my photos! Delegates attending the training were:
Muctarr K. Sowa from the House of Parliament
Alimamy Koroma, Tejan A. Jah and Vivienne Esther Kabia from Advocaid
Kojo Kwafo from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (who assured SierraLII a broadcast slot!)
Mariama Bah and Thomas Dixon, Mass Communications students at Fourah Bay College
Justice Adelaide Dwozak, Justice of the High Court of Sierra Leone
Patrick J.B. Tucker from CIDA
Martin Royston-Knight and Rugiatu M. Morgan from the Special Court for Sierra Leone
Kadiatu M. Koroma from the Outreach Section of the Special Court for Sierra Leone
M.A.B. Timbo, Barrister and Solicitor representing the Law Reform Commission
Mohamed A. Bangura, Trial Attorney, Special Court for Sierra Leone – The Hague Sub Office
The training was exceptionally useful – and especially so for the trainer! There was so much participation from the attendees. Justice Dworzak asked how the integrity of the documents on SierraLII could be assured. This is a really good question and one that recurs frequently across jurisdictions. There are two main aspects to assuring integrity:
- Ensuring the integrity of the source. This means that the documents themselves must come directly from the courts (case law) or from the parliament (legislation);
- Ensuring the integrity of the website content. In the case of scans, this is sometimes harder to assure as the OCR and proofreading process relies on human interpretation where characters are illegible to the software. The process is always slightly flawed. However, by providing access to the original, scanned document, the user has the option of referring to the original text;
- In terms of reporting against the content of a case, AfricanLII has found that media summaries such as those released by the Constitutional Court of South Africa, are a very useful way of ensuring the media have the facts straight. Particularly where the point of law being argued is somewhat opaque to the layperson!
Contrary to popular belief, PDFs can be tampered with. A user could download the document, and change it. However, the information on the website itself (pdf, html or word doc) cannot be tampered with.
Questions were raised regarding the financial sustainability of SierraLII with some potential ideas lobbied around. There were some ideas that printing law reports may be a revenue source but based on AfricanLII’s experience, this is never a revenue-generating possibility. The costs of printing are simply too high. Without sufficient economies of scale, the costs always outweigh the revenues. For example, let us take some sample costs:
Packaging (cover design and production): $5,000
Typeset and interior layouts: $2,500
Printing and binding: $18,000
If the cover price is $19.99, the net price is $9, the breakeven point is 6,444 copies!
Having made the point regarding printed law reports however, there is another point to be made regarding digital law reports which should be investigated further.
There was a suggestion that SierraLII should also include access to customary law as well as judgments from the magistrates’ courts. Bridget explained that – for now – the priority was to try to create comprehensive and current databases of material from the Superior Courts of Sierra Leone. It was generally agreed, however, that it would be very useful immediately to publish the rules and regulations of the various courts.
There were two especially exciting outcomes from the workshop: Kojo Kwafo assured SierraLII of a radio slot the following day (as well as a potential documentary on Free Access to Law later in the year); and students from Fourah Bay College volunteered their assistance to Bridget!
That evening, Maria hosted a dinner for me, Bridget, Caitlin, Sandra Thompson from ASJP and Tillman Schneider from GIZ at the apartment she shares with Jim Johnson. The views from pretty much anywhere in Freetown are spectacular but that evening from Maria’s balcony, the view was sublime. Particularly since it was accompanied by Jolof rice with chicken and fresh watermelon. The simple things!
On the 20thApril, we met with the Board of SierraLII. Attending the meeting were:
Olayinka Chrighton-Randall from the Justice Sector Coordination Office (JSCO)
Tillman Schneider from the German Society for International Cooperation, Ltd (GIZ)
Peter Andersen from the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL)
Bernadette Cole from Fourah Bay College (FBC)
Muctarr K. Sowa from the Sierra Leone Parliament
Frederick I. Kamara from the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone (HRCSL)
Sonkita Conteh from the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)
Julia Sarkordie-Mensah from the Sierra Leone Judiciary
Sandra Thompson from the Access to Security and Justice Programme (ASJP).
Kojo Kwafo from the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation.
I was graciously afforded some time by the Board to present the latest news from AfricanLII as well as a few suggestions on how SierraLII and AfricanLII could collaborate in the future. It was agreed that AfricanLII would continue to provide technical assistance to SierraLII as well as assisting in the sourcing of ongoing funds. Bridget confirmed to the Board that SierraLII’s contribution to the collaborative paper to be presented at the 12thannual Law via the Internet Conference had been accepted.
The Board meeting adjourned with commitments to meet in the next fortnight to finalize the institutional hosting decision for SierraLII.
I was disappointed to have to leave Freetown that afternoon to commence the return journey home. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to this beautiful part of the world and to work with such interesting people.
We go si bak!