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Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is a former British colony, which became an independent country in 1961 and a republic in 1971.  Sierra Leone is still recovering from a civil war that was triggered in 1991 and lasted 10 years, having a negative impact on the social and economic life of Sierra Leone.

The Constitution of Sierra Leone, which was passed in 1991, has continued to accommodate the various religious laws in several areas, including family law. This practice has been inherited from the 19th century, when the British passed laws based on the English common law system, while also incorporating customary procedures.  Within family law, there are three legal systems operating in Sierra Leone. Firstly, there is statutory (general) law comprising the English common law and Equity. Included under this is the Christian Marriage Act, and the Civil Marriage Act 1910. Secondly, there is the customary law of the various tribes in the country and finally, there is Islamic law, for which limited statutory provision is made. The Mohammedan Marriage Act Cap. 96 1905 falls under this category and has a bearing on issues of marriage, divorce and inheritance among Muslims.  In general, Islamic law is considered to be part of customary law.

 In this mixed structure, the system under which a marriage was contracted and registered has a significant impact on family law cases, such as paternity disputes, maintenance, property and inheritance rights. However, it is not clear how far this is observed in practice.  Many non-governmental organisations that seek to improve the status of women maintain that the constitutional status of women is contradictory. For example, Act No.6 of 1991 grants the protection of the rights of women, and section 6(2) discourages gender discrimination. Under section 27 of the Constitution however, discrimination is permitted under laws of adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, property rights and other aspects of personal law. According to the NGO movement, the co-existence of the three separate legal structures do not operate in the interests of vulnerable groups, such as children, women, and rural Sierra Leoneans. The City Courts, which administer general law, are often inaccessible for a large proportion of the population.

The population in Sierra Leone today is approximately 60% Muslim, 30% followers of indigenous beliefs and 10% Christian. Sierra Leone is also a multi-ethnic as well as multi-religious country.  The ethnic groups are Temne ( approximately 30 percent), Mende (approximately 30 percent), other tribes (approximately 30 percent) and Creole (approximately 10 percent).

Available Information

reunite´s Summary Text for Sierra Leone 
Legal Texts

•    Children and Young persons Act 1945, Cap.44 Laws of Sierra Leone

•    Foreign Judgements (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1935, Cap. 21 Laws of Sierra Leone

•    Mohammedan Marriage Act 1905, Cap.96 Laws of Sierra Leone

•    Christian Marriage Act 1907, Cap. 95 Laws of Sierra Leone

•    Civil Marriage CT 1910, Cap. 97 Laws of Sierra Leone

•    Matrimonial Causes Act 1950, Cap. 102 Laws of Sierra Leone

•    Civil Marriage (Amendment) Act No.6 2000

•    The Passports (Amendments) Act No.12 1974

•    The Local Courts Act No. 20 of 1963

•    The Local Courts (Amendment) Act No. 28 1966

•    The Local Courts (Amendment) Act No.19 1974

•    The Local Courts (Amendment) Act No.7 1975


•    Summary of the Judiciary,