Our work in Liberia

Combating prolonged pre-trial detention

As Liberia’s legal institutions sought to rebuild in the wake of the civil crisis, ABA ROLI assisted the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary to address institutional and structural challenges that contributed to prolonged pre-trial detention. To this end, in 2009, ABA ROLI played a vital role in the formation of the Ministry of Justice-chaired Pre-Trial Detention Taskforce, an important forum for the exchange of information on pre-trial detention issues. The taskforce consisted of representatives from government agencies, local non-governmental organizations and international partners. Recognizing that prolonged pre-trial detention is a symptom of systemic weaknesses, ABA ROLI supported the Ministry of Justice to host a pre-trial detention strategic planning conference. The conference led to the creation of issue-focused subcommittees and the initiation of strategic intervention plans. These efforts led to the development of a signed memorandum of understanding governing police and prosecution coordination on criminal investigations, as well as the development of a guide for the use of alternatives to detention for actors throughout the criminal justice chain. In addition to these policy-oriented interventions, ABA ROLI coordinated with local civil society groups, including the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and Prison Fellowship Liberia, to provide legal assistance to inmates facing prolonged pre-trial detention at Monrovia Central Prison. ABA ROLI worked in coordination with the Magistrates Sitting Program and endeavored to improve record keeping in participating magisterial courts and sought to provide effective legal representation in these courts of first instance. From 2009 to 2012, ABA ROLI, through its partners at Catholic Justice and Peace Commission and Prison Fellowship Liberia, provided legal assistance to more than 2,000 pre-trial detainees.

From 2006 to 2012, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) played a key role in the process of rebuilding Liberia’s justice system through its involvement with the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute, a Liberian judiciary body with a wide-ranging judicial education and reform mandate.

Supporting the James A.A. Pierre Judicial Institute

ABA ROLI’s goal was the development of a sustainable, Liberian-led training institution, one equipped to identify and address Liberian justice needs. The institute’s opening in June 2008 was the first small step toward the realization of this objective. Persistent challenges included a dearth of suitably qualified Liberian trainers, difficulties in accessing the law and a lack of training materials. The institute, under the guidance of a board of governors that includes representatives from all three branches of government, has sought to address these challenges.

With ABA ROLI’s technical, logistical and financial support, the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute developed into a critical instrument of judicial reform in Liberia.

Training judges, magistrates and public defenders

The first quarterly training of judges took place in January 2009. Curricula for this ABA ROLI-funded program were developed in conjunction with the Liberian Trial Judges Association. Coursework covered core substantive law, procedural rules and courtroom skills. The institute has since established additional training programs tailored for magistrates and public defenders.

A key factor in the program’s success was ABA ROLI’s emphasis on identifying and nurturing Liberian trainers. Three experienced magistrates were seconded, full-time, to the institute. ABA ROLI provided these magistrates with instructional design and facilitation training. These magistrate-trainers subsequently developed Liberia’s first Professional Magistrates Training Program. This unprecedented initiative—training carefully selected college graduates to preside in Liberia’s lowest courts of limited jurisdiction—substantially improved the ability of these courts to administer justice to the Liberian people.

Developing benchbooks

Another ABA ROLI-supported project was the creation and dissemination of Liberia’s first benchbooks, which covered criminal procedure and other relevant laws. The benchbooks served as the institute’s prime teaching resource and they are increasingly cited as the predominant courtroom reference material for judges across the country.

From 2006 to 2012, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) partnered with Liberia’s only law school, the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. Our programs promoted the enhancement of legal education in the country.

Launching a legal skills center

In 2009, ABA ROLI opened a legal skills center to meet the needs of law students and new attorneys whose education was disadvantaged by 14 years of civil war and the destruction of Liberia’s legal institutions.

The center focused on developing discipline in thinking logically and analytically, on teaching the basics of legal writing and research and on cultivating precise speaking. Most students were older than traditional students, so adult methodologies were used in the small, highly-interactive classes.

Building capacity among students and young lawyers was a primary goal, but sustainability was critical. Thus, the legal skills center employed a three-pronged approach. First, the development of teaching materials and scripts was ongoing, focusing on target areas. Second, as the center conducted trainings, it regularly assessed students and revised materials. And third, the center prepared graduates to become trainers who, in turn, teach and help develop materials. The first program cycle, which targeted third-year law students, saw a 250% improvement in legal writing after one year of training.

Supporting the law school

ABA ROLI advised the law school on curriculum updates, with recommendations including coursework in legal writing, thought and research, as well as other electives. ABA ROLI also helped the school in enhancing its administrative capacity and opening a computer lab for faculty and students.

Legal Profession Reform

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) support of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) was augmented by assigning a full-time staff attorney to liaise with the association. The staff attorney maintained an office at ABA ROLI, but also served on the LNBA’s Executive Committee. She focused on supporting the LNBA’s efforts to begin a continuing legal education program and assisted in making resources from the ABA ROLI-supported legal skills center available to LNBA.

ABA ROLI also assisted the LNBA by providing logistical support for the association’s quarterly membership assemblies, both in Monrovia and in outlying counties. ABA ROLI also supported efforts to open a legal library in each county.