Gender and Land Rights Database

Sierra Leone

Traditional authorities and customary institutions

  • There are 149 chiefdoms throughout Sierra Leone. A chiefdom is the basic unit of native and local administration in the Provinces. Each chiefdom is an autonomous, territorial, as well as socio-political unit headed by a paramount chief who is traditionally chosen from one of the ruling houses, that is one of the descent groups whose ancestors are reputed to have founded the chiefdom. Statutory law has attempted to define their functions and election procedure (7). 
  • The Chieftaincy Act, No.10 of 2009
    - Section 1: Defines the functions of “Paramount chief” and “chief”: The Paramount chief is not subordinate in his ordinary jurisdiction to any chief. The chief is by customary law the Councillor or the assistant of the Paramount chief.

    - Section 8 (1): opens the election procedure to women but is inconsistent in its wording:
    “a person is qualified to stand as candidate in a paramount chieftaincy election if (a) he was born in wedlock to a rightful claimant in a recognized ruling house in the chiefdom or (b) where tradition so specifies, he or she has direct paternal or maternal lineage to a rightful claimant in a recognized ruling house whether born outside wedlock or not”

    - Section 8 (2): Defines a recognized ruling house as one that has been established and in existence at independence on 27th April 1961.
  • The Local Courts Act, No. 20 of 1963 last amended by the Local Courts (Amendment) Act, No.7 of 1975
    - Applies throughout the Provinces but has no application in the Western area

    - Section 2: Defines customary law as any rule other than a general rule having the force of law in any chiefdom of the Provinces whereby rights and correlative duties have been acquired or imposed which is applicable in any particular case and conforms with natural justice and equity and not incompatible either directly or indirectly, with the enactment applying to the Provinces.

    - Section 13: the Local Courts have jurisdiction
    (a) to administer the estates of deceased persons, so far as the administration of which is governed by customary law
    (b)(i) to hear and determine all civil cases governed by customary law other than cases between Paramount Chiefs or Tribal Authorities involving a question of title to land
    (b)(ii) all civil cases governed by the general law where the claim, debt, duty or matter in dispute does not exceed a certain amount.
    c) Criminal cases below a certain ceiling in fines and imprisonment

    - These courts exist independently of the general legal system, and lawyers cannot participate in their proceedings.

    - The local district Appeals Court reviews initial appeals from these local courts (10)

    - Section 76(1): gives it legal effect. It will appear that absolute sale of land is only possible in the Southern and Eastern Provinces amongst the Mendes, Konos, and Kissi. The only qualification is that the purchaser must be a native and every member of the family must give his or her consent before such conveyance can be valid.


Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography