One thing that continues to baffle me is that almost every stakeholder in Liberia’s legal arena would blame the imperfect justice system on several factors; but again, almost everybody wants to shy away from exposing those bad apples in the justice system. I do believe that nothing seems too provocative and hurtful to compel the kindest people to voice out their deepest disappointments in any system than to deny them justice when they deserve it.
To be clear on this point, permit me to state that in our dear country Liberia, most of us – whether lettered or unlettered, may had been taught from childhood either by families or guardians that “justice is for all”. Unarguably, it is anticipated that matters that cannot be settled at family or community level must legally be settled in courts with all due diligence. With that being said, one could understand how hurtful and provocative it is to live in a society where justice is marketed at the disadvantage of impoverished people.
What is clear here is that those, who are bribed to damage cases for their personal gains, are definitely spoilers of Liberia’s justice system. And so, protecting such wicked people at the detriment of the public, especially the impoverished people, equates to doing more harms to the growth of the country’s democracy. It even deepens the negative public perception and lack of confidence in the justice system which requires sincere measures other than the age-old “judicial service will improve” rhetoric.
True to public perceptions that Liberia’s justice service is not trust worthy, especially for the poor, I have come to realize from covering several occasions as a reporter at the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill where high profile legal practitioners publically rebuked players within the justice sectors for their roles in causing more damages to the already “crippled justice system” here.
To begin with the most recent of all, I attended the opening of the Civil Law Court for the September Term A.D. 2012 when Judge Yussif D. Kabba delivered a very interesting charge. The judge recalled punishing some jurors and disbanding an entire jury panel for lack of credibility during the last time he presided over Criminal Court “C” at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia.
He reached the decision to punish those jurors because they were allegedly bribed US$700.00 each by a party interested in a case that was already before the court. Judge Kaba went further to say the Justice Ministry is not doing justice in policing the jury service by not following up jury bribery cases to further prosecute those involved.
But one amazing thing that occurred in the incident highlighted by the judge was that the jurors, who were linked to the bribery scheme, refused to identify the giver of said bribe no matter how they were punished, as if they took oath to protect that person. To prove that some people prefer hiding those who commit real crimes, I saw a lawyer and some bystanders in the crowd pleading for journalists not to photograph one of the jurors that was accused of the bribery scheme, while the suspect was being taken to the maximum prison, South Beach.
But you will be surprised to see those very people rejoicing if they see another person handcuffed by police and taken to court for simple offenses far less than jurors receiving US$700.00 each to damage a case. In most instances, jurors are said to be bribed through lawyers; and yet in some instances, a party may pick the slightest chance to directly engage the jurors for bribery.
During the Civil Law Court opening on Monday, September 17, 2012, Liberia’s Solicitor General Counselor Michael Wilkins Wrights told the audience that lawyers commit 95 percent of the bribery in courts. While we may not want to support the chief prosecutor’s argument that the Justice Ministry could do nothing more to prosecute the jurors on grounds that they refused to identify the person who bribed them, I believe much could have still been done, given the fact that confession was made to the effect.
Besides being accused of accepting bribes, jurors are forbidden to serve more than one court term in a year. But in some instances, they illegally make their way through by help of court clerks and other influential individuals within the justice system to serve more than one court term. So in that case, it is obvious that the court clerk or individual, who should be alarming and exposing the jurors for breaching the jury law had already connived with them in the violation.
Thus, nobody can expose the other, even though the judges, clerks, lawyers and jurors will all join the public in criticizing the shortcomings within the justice system instead of instituting measures against the situation. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia Johnnie N. Lewis once threatened to dismiss court clerks if they were caught aiding jurors to serve in more than one trial in a year.
His threat was the result of information available to him that some jurors were in the habit of changing their names by aid of some court clerks in order to serve additional trials after their first service in the same year.
First of all, there must be stronger measures set by the Justice Ministry for misconducts committed in handling cases if the underprivileged are to be assured and confident that they too can get justice when they deserve it no matter who they are to face in a legal battle. The point is, when people take their plights before the court only to experience the broadest cheat in the process of adjudication by the jurors, lawyers or judges for some gains, the suppressed party feels more hurt and provoked of that situation than ever.
Now, since the Justice Ministry wanted evidence from jurors, who were already liable to prosecution for bribery, is it not a clear message that the ministry would have only relied on evidence produced by the jurors/defendants against themselves? The fact is if the jurors had identified the person, who bribed them US$700.00 each, both the jurors and the bribe giver would have become defendants for tempering with a case in hand.
Since it is not legally required for defendants to bring evidence against themselves, prosecution however shouldered all responsibilities to have acquired all evidence necessary, building upon the confession voluntarily made by one of the jurors to further investigate.
My concern is that if the Justice Ministry is seriously seeking evidences from people that are supposed to be prosecuted, then I am given the impression that no matter how many prison compounds are constructed in Montserrado County, they will continue to be overcrowded like the congested Monrovia Central Prison Compound aka South Beach Prison.
Since the jurors were not further probed by the Justice Ministry on grounds that they did not show who bribed them, is the Justice Ministry also prepared to waive prosecuting other people, who will confess to the commission of their crimes, but yet refuse to disclose their accomplices?
Seeing court proceedings to be the last vital means by which any Liberian must get a fair treatment, I do strongly believe that if gross misconducts committed by court staffs, jurors and lawyers are only subjected to judges’ contempt power, fines or thirty days jail sentences for selling justice against the will of others, public confidence will continue to erode in the system.
About the author: Winston W. Parley is a reporter of the New Dawn assigned at the Judiciary Branch. He has been reporting on the justice sector for a few years. Parley also covered the Executive Mansion from 2010 through 2011 during President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s first term in office, and partly her current term. He is a student of the University of Liberia, and has actively worked with the print media in Liberia for over four years.