Barrister Richard Honey led this year's legal team of volunteers in West Africa on the Conservative Party's international social action project. He reflects on their visit to Sierra Leone:
"For the lawyers on Project Umubano 2017 in Sierra Leone, the week began with a visit to Magazine Wharf – a slum area of Freetown which was badly affected during the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015. The visit was a collaboration with LAWYERS, a group of female lawyers in Sierra Leone who do pro bono work to advance the rights of women and girls. There was a joint donation of clothes, shoes, blankets, books, toys and foodstuffs, to help the community through the rainy season. Fortunately, unlike in previous years, Magazine Wharf was not badly affected by the flooding and landslides which hit the city only a few weeks later.
As always, the pro bono work the Project Umubano lawyers were doing was linked to their professional expertise. This year, that covered tax, public law, environmental law and healthcare regulation. Unlike previous years, which focussed almost exclusively on training events, this year the lawyers spent time working in-house in government agencies dealing with tax, minerals and the environment. The work was very interesting and worthwhile, and the assistance was welcomed. It is likely to give rise to on-going pro bono support in the future, both from the UK and in Salone.
There were also some training sessions done with Sierra Leonean partners. There was a session with LAWYERS on healthcare regulation, which is particularly important for the provision of reliable and credible healthcare in Sierra Leone. Training was also provided for government lawyers on judicial review and expert evidence, for junior lawyers through the Bar Association on topics such as professional conduct and ethics, for AdvocAid – a legal organisation which works with women and children in trouble with the law – on client care and interviewing witnesses, and for law students at the University of Makeni on legal research and writing for journals. The group was also able to observe some training conducted by the Sierra Leone Legal Aid Board on alternative dispute resolution and engage with Sierra Leonean lawyers over drinks one evening.
Overall, the visit was not only worthwhile in itself for what was achieved, but it was an important further step in building relations with justice organisations in Sierra Leone and in reinforcing the long-term legacy of the legal element of Project Umubano in Sierra Leone."