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Female lawyer wins award for child defense

Haffie Haffner, working for Pilot National Legal Aid (PNLA) as a pupil barrister, has won an award as the most outstanding Lawyer and activist on issues relating to child protection in the Sierra Leone Judiciary.
She was given the certificate on November 21, in a programme organized by Youth and Child Advocacy Network Sierra Leone (YACAN-SL) in their fifth annual children’s creative contest award ceremony marking World Day for prevention of abuse and violence against children.
Haffner said she works in the juvenile court with the responsibility of giving free legal representation to cases that concern juvenile justice. She has passed the Bar exam and is completing a one-year pupilage, working at PNLA under a senior barrister.
The lawyer also said she sits in juvenile courts from start to the rising of the court from Monday to Friday, defending juveniles. Her organization has representation all round the courts giving free legal aid to the poor so that justice can flow in the Judiciary.
The Barrister said her organization has represented over 4,000 Sierra Leoneans since it was launched in January 2010.
PNLA’s main focus is to provide advice, assistance and representation, in the criminal justice system at the entry points of Prisons, Police Stations and Courts.
She said before the coming of PNLA, cases of juveniles charged with crime would last in court for six months and women, disabled, children and juveniles went without representation because they did not have money. PNLA has addressed some of these issues, she said.
The Barrister said though there are many successes, there are challenges. Most of the matters involving children who come in conflict with the law are street children, while some stay with friends and others have left their parents in the provinces. “When they are discharged where do they go, … back in the street and their involvement into crime again is possible,” she said.
She added that there is no reformation programme so children return to the courts for the same crime.
Haffner called for other organizations to network with them as her organization will continue to assist the poor who come in conflict with the law so they can have access to justice.
She said it is a great concern for PNLA because these children are the future leaders so if PNLA is working for them to be free from crime, advice them, represent them in the Judiciary and at the Police Station, they need government and other agencies to complement their efforts and work in the interest of the children to construct a safety rehabilitation center that will cater for children after they are free in court.
She added that another challenge is that most of the Police station in the Western Area did not have an exclusive juvenile cell though children are to be held separate from adults. It is stated in the Child Rights Act that children issues should be investigated by Family Support Units but most cases are investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department which she said is a concern to them working in the interest of justice.
The Lawyer added that when a juvenile is found guilty and sentenced to Approved School, there is no formal schooling which shows it is not the best reformation centre.
Pilot National Legal Aid (PNLA) was established by the Government of Sierra Leone and the Justice Sector Development Programme funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) on January 6, 2010 to provide a sustainable, affordable, credible, and accessible legal aid scheme for those living in Sierra Leone who cannot afford to pay for the services of a lawyer.
By Emmanuella Kallon

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