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Working with the Justice Sector Coordination Office(JSCO) and the Directorate of Public Prosecutions in Sierra Leone, a team from Harvard has been helping managers in justice sector agencies develop indicators that communicate progress toward strategic goals, learn more about problems in the justice system, and improve the performance of individual institutions.
Our collaboration with JSCO began with an effort to strengthen measures for the government’s goal of building 'safer communities', principally by connecting the results of public perception surveys to data from the police about the numbers of recorded crimes. We then tried to measure the length of stay for prisoners on remand, using a combination of prison and court data. Both explorations yielded insights of value to the JSCO as it reported to government on the progress in the system of justice as a whole and supervised an inter-agency working group that attends to collective problems in the governance of the justice sector. But neither effort generated an indicator that a leader of a single agency might use to motivate and monitor changes in specific operations. Since January 2011, in response to a request from the Attorney General, we have been working with officials in the prosecution service to develop an indicator of improvements in the justice sector’s response to violence against women and girls (VAWG).
A wide range of non-government organizations provide support for victims of violence in Sierra Leone, as does the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs. Within the government the principal burden of investigating and prosecuting these offenses falls to the Family Support Units of the Sierra Leone Police(SLP) and the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), who reports to the Attorney General. Both institutions are pursuing improvements in critical operations: Investigating reports of violence quickly and thoroughly, charging suspects, and prosecuting defendants carefully and expeditiously.
In April 2012 the DPP reasserted his authority to charge offenses and prosecute defendants in court. The DPP’s predecessors had ceded this responsibility to the police, who made all decisions whether or not to charge cases upon completion of their investigations. With the support of the Director of Crime Services at the SLP, the DPP issued a verbal 'policy directive' requesting all of the Family Support Units (FSU) in the Western Area of the country to solicit 'early advice' from prosecutors as to whether the case might be charged to court and what should be done next with the case. The initial experiment appears to have stuck, improving the quality of police investigations, increasing the likelihood of both a charge and conviction in cases of sexual assault, and transforming the relationship between police and prosecution.
In 2013 the PCJ helped the Family Support Units (FSU) within the Sierra Leone Police (SLP) analyze data regarding the outcome of investigations of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the Western Area of the country. The analysis was hampered by inconsistencies in the way information was recorded and reported in each police district, but the exercise generated a better understanding of the concentration of 'offenses against women and children' in different areas and also of the variety of responses to violence against women and girls across the region. In January 2014 the new director of the FSUs, Mira Koroma, asked for our help developing indicators for two new strategic goals -- increasing the 'contribution' of the FSUs to successful prosecution of cases of SGBV, and reducing the frequency with which police investigations are 'compromised', particularly in socially sensitive cases. A team from the PCJ is now working with supervisors and line staff to develop a prototype measure for each goal.
Prosecutors in most countries assess the value of their contribution to justice along many dimensions -- improvements in the work of police investigators, the care with which victims are treated, the balance and sufficiency of evidence presented at trial, and the impact on public confidence in justice, to name just a few. Rather than choose a single measure, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in Sierra Leone has developed a bundle of indicators that teach him about the changing character of relationships between his agency and the police and courts at three critical junctures in the justice system: 1. Effective Cooperation with the Police; 2. Consistent Charging Decisions; and 3. Outcomes of Trial:
In April 2012 the DPP issued a verbal 'directive' to the FSUs in the Western Area, requesting that they send completed investigations to the DPP for 'early advice'. Unless the DPP recommended the investigation be dropped for 'want of evidence', the advice given by prosecutors involved a critical review of the probative potential of the evidence collected, suggestions about supplementary investigative steps the FSU officer in charge might take, and information about the likely charge. The early advice was usually given in written form, although Principal State Counsel Monfred Sesay frequently invited FSU police officers to discuss in small groups some of the recent cases his office reviewed with the aim of improving the professionalism of future investigations.
Investigators responded slowly to the directive. As the chart below illustrates, only a few cases were submitted for early advice between April 2012 and January 2013. But in February 2013 the number of cases sent for early advice suddenly increased, quadrupling in one month.
Investigators also started sending for advice cases that involved allegations of other crimes unrelated to sexual and gender based violence, a sign, perhaps of the utility of the early contact with prosecutors or their growing acceptance of the new role played by the DPP in the response to sexual assault. In July 2013, investigators requested early advice from the DPP in 125 cases, two thirds of which involved 'other offenses'. By the end of the summer, it seemed that the DPP’s reclamation of the constitutional authority to charge cases had been largely accepted by the FSUs in the Western Area, if not the Sierra Leone Police as a whole.
Instead of expanding the experiment to other regions, which might have taxed the ability of prosecutors to provide timely advice, the DPP instead focused his attention on ensuring high quality advice and improving the outcomes of prosecution at trial in the Western Area. For this purpose the DPP began tracking the nature of the advice given for each type of offense, building a self-standing data base for all the cases that come to his office. As a result the DPP now knows the rate at which investigations of sexual assault culminate in a charge or a decision to refer the parties to civil court, recommend that they settle out of court, close the case for want of evidence, or 'keep it in view' while investigators pursue other leads. Between April 2012 and August 2013, as the following chart shows, over 80 percent of cases of sexual assault and 'sexual penetration' – that is, the rape of a child – involved a decision to charge the defendant. By contrast less than a third of all investigations of assault, wounding, and domestic violence culminated in a charge.
The DPP with PCJ also disaggregated the data on the number of cases sent and on the recommendations made by police station. The DPP communicated the findings to the Sierra Leone Police. The two agencies used this data as the basis for a conversation on the work of the FSUs in the Western Area.
The DPP is currently in the process of analyzing the outcomes at trial for cases in which his staff have provided early legal advice to police investigators. It is too early to tell whether the early advice scheme itself has had an independent impact on the likelihood of acquittal or conviction or even the duration of proceedings. Trials in Sierra Leone typically take a long time, so only a small fraction of the cases adjudicated by the high court in the last two years involved investigations in which prosecutors had given early advice. Still, the initial findings suggest that conviction rates are much higher today than they were before the experiment. In 2013 approximately 48 percent of the prosecutions of sexual and gender based violence ended in a conviction, compared to 24 percent for all other offenses. The PCJ is now working with the DPP to broaden the range of information being collected at trial for each case, and to strengthen the comparison of practices before and after the introduction of the early advice scheme.
Charts: Data from Sierra Leone Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)
Delays in justice can compromise the quality of evidence at trial, the effectiveness of support for victims, the sense of responsibility among legal professionals, and the reputation of criminal justice as a whole. Concern for excessive delay prompted the DPP in Sierra Leone to craft a measure of the amount of time that elapses between the committal of a case to the high court, where the prosecution of grave crimes occurs, and the commencement of trials. The DPP is refining this measure so that he can distinguish the amount of time required for three separate operations in this sequence, each requiring a different procedure and involving a different agency:
The first and the last of these three stages are under the control of the courts whereas the second stage is the DPP’s responsibility alone. Initially the DPP focused most of his attention on expediting the processes directly under the control of his staff.
The chart below shows that the DPP has issued indictments twice as fast in 2013 than 2012. Because this stage comprises only a small portion of the total amount of time it takes to administer criminal justice, the DPP now hopes to work with the Judiciary to reduce delays at other critical junctures.
The PCJ is now helping the DPP habituate some of his staff to the use of indicators, and transfer to them the technical and conceptual skills needed to move from the collection of data to the crafting of an indicator to generating knowledge that can inform policy.
Chart: Data from Sierra Leone Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP)