Enhancing Grassroots Justice in Covid-19 affected Sierra Leone: A Case Study of Timap for Justice

Sesay, Mohamed | $24,250

Ontario York University 2021 SSHRC

This proposal seeks to build on a collaboration between the applicant Dr. Mohamed Sesay and Timap for Justice. Headed by Mr. Simeon Koroma, Timap is the pioneering non-profit organization providing free paralegal services to Sierra Leoneans who cannot afford access to the country’s justice system. The rationale for this proposed project is two-fold. Firstly, it aims to enhance understanding of the impact of Timap and thus create actionable knowledge on how Sierra Leoneans can have better access to legal remediation. Secondly, the project seeks to identify and examine COVID‑19 related justice needs to determine their impact on the capacity and effectiveness of grassroots justice defenders during and after the pandemic. Whereas Timap has been on the frontlines of addressing the justice gap in Sierra Leone, there is very little knowledge of the creative local measures adopted to enhance access to public services, resolve everyday disputes, and defend vulnerable people against powerful actors. In fact, as COVID‑19 compounds the access to justice challenges in low-income countries, like Sierra Leone, frontline justice providers are continuing to work without any assessment of the changing nature of legal problems and the evolving pattern of local remedies adopted across a variety of circumstances such as war, economic crisis, and pandemics. Often lost in the process of responding to crisis is the prior institutional memory and knowhow that is essential for grassroots organizations to grow and share their local expertise with national and global stakeholders such as UN agencies and Western donors. Therefore, this research and capacity-building project is to support Timap to review and evaluate its work and to be better positioned to continue doing so during and after the COVID‑19 pandemic.

Operating in a country which has experienced long periods of despotic rule, civil war, economic crises, and pandemics has compounded Timap’s challenges with facilitating access to legal remediation. Timap will benefit from this project by drawing from the expertise of the applicant and research team to produce a report of the organization’s achievements and challenges since its inception. The report will be used to inform the public about the work of Timap as well as build relationships with academic institutions, governments, donor agencies, international NGOs, and private individuals who are interested in supporting access to justice for poor and marginalised communities. It will also provide the basis for seeking future funding from major grant opportunities such as the UK Global Challenges Research Fund, IDRC “closing the justice gap” and SSHRC Partnership grants. In terms of policy, the project will support the efforts of Timap which has been advocating for the implementation of the Legal Aid Act 2012 and related policies and legislations needed to expand access to justice during this critical period of a global pandemic.

The interdisciplinary scholarly community—including political science, law, and socio-legal studies—will find the empirical evidence of Timap’s work highly valuable for conceptualising legal pluralism in the context of a pandemic. As a paralegal organization, Timap is also an appropriate empirical case study to understand the nexus between statutory and customary laws in the contexts of postwar reconstruction, economic crisis, and global pandemic. This study of Timap and the Sierra Leonean experience will create understandings that straddle formal and informal justice systems across multiple periods of crisis, which will subsequently provide important insights for building a contemporary socio-legal theory about grassroots justice in legally pluralistic societies.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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