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Following The Issue

Can Our Courts Be Trusted?

Today, the Issues Desk wishes to consider whether the people can trust the court system. Why? Well, there is too much news about the court system being corrupt. Some say corrupt jurors are responsible; others say corrupt judges are at fault. But there are those who contend that powerful lawyers and law firms are to blame for what is happening to the courts. Still, there are others who argue that money and connections, not justice or the desire to dispense justice, rule the system.

Anyway, whether jurors, judges, influential lawyers, powerful law firms, money or connections should be blamed for the court’s inability to dispense justice fairly at all times, it is worrisome that the court system is corrupt, because the court is supposed to be the final, impartial arbiter of justice; people believe it is the place where justice can be dispensed without fear or favor, the place where the haves and the have-nots stand equal chance to get justice. But if the court system is plagued with corruption, then it is safe to conclude that justice will be just-ice.

Although corruption has been around for a helluva long time and has been in the Judiciary for years, information reaching our Issues Desk indicates that the country’s judicial system is corrupt to the bone.

For instance, in the US State Department’s Human Rights Report released last year, the US indicated that the judicial system is extremely frustratingly corrupt. The Report highlighted the following:

1.  Corruption is pervasive in the judicial system.
2.  Judges request bribes to announce not-guilty verdicts for those on the wrong side of the law, or to find defendants not guilty in criminal cases.
3.  Judges request bribes to release detainees from prison.
4.  Judges request bribes to try cases.
5.  Defense attorneys and prosecutors ask defendants to satisfy judges, prosecutors, jurors and police officers by giving them money.
6.  Defense attorneys and prosecutors ask defendants to give money to judges and jurors so that they can come down with favorable rulings for them.
7.  There is uneven application of the law.

As if the points above were not enough to indicate that the system is rotten, retired Justice K. Gladys Johnson made the following revelations on Thursday, 21 April 2011, during a reception held in her honor:
1. A lawyer tried to bribe her, but she refused. She got furious and cited the entire law firm with which the lawyer worked. [It might be interesting to know how many of her colleagues do accept their offers. It might also be worth knowing how and how many times such acts have hurt the dispensation of justice.]

2. The key problem facing the judicial system is that jurors are corrupt, and that she will sponsor a bill aimed at punishing jurors who accept bribes.  [The jurors, on the other hand, might be saying that the key problem facing the judicial system is that the judges are extremely corrupt, and that they will sponsor a bill containing clear-cut punishment for judges who accept bribes.]

Interestingly, too, during the commencement of the Central Bank US$1 million theft case involving two employees, the judge virtually begged the jurors not to accept bribes from anyone because, according to him, the future of the two defendants were at stake.

Also in the FrontPage Africa versus Chris Toe case, one of the jurors later confessed that they all were bribed in order to come down with a decision in favor of Mr. Chris Toe.

Moreover, in the libel case that Consolidated Group of Mr. Freeman Simeon brought against the New Democrat newspaper, a case at whose end the paper was found guilty for publishing facts contained in audit reports released by the GAC and asked to pay damages in the tune of nearly US$1 million, many hinted that bribes exchanged hands, causing Mr. Freeman and his group to receive a favorable decision.

While judges are asking for money to give favorable verdicts to those with the highest amounts, lawyers, too, are busy bribing judges and jurors for favorable verdicts. Some say that corruption has given birth in the judicial system, and that the offspring are uncountable. Differently stated, corruption has befriended and kissed the judicial system.

Since Liberians are fond of praying for anything and everything, it might be safe to suggest that there’s a need for a one-month fast and prayer session for God to have mercy and cleanse the judicial system of corruption because, as experience and credible reports have shown, it’s troubling for corruption to take hold of the judicial system.

How can the courts be trusted when there are reports that jurors cause the innocent to be convicted and the culprit to escape the claws and clips of justice? How can the courts be trusted when it is reported that judges ask wealthy and influential lawyers and defendants for bribes in order to announce favorable decisions? How can the courts be trusted when there is information that jurors and judges introduce a bidding process for justice, where the ones with the highest bribe get a positive verdict, notwithstanding their guilt or crime? How can the system be trusted when it is said that there is no justice for the poor and the weak? When the courts are corrupt, isn’t it true that there may be no justice for the person obeying the law? When corruption befriends the judicial system, right may become wrong, and wrong may become right. In such a situation, it’s worth thinking twice before challenging anyone: “Go sue me.”

This news – that is, all the news about the judicial system being corrupt – is worrisome; it’s troubling. Before – those with retentive memory and the acuteness to recall life’s experiences tell us –  when two people fussed or fought for or over something, the usual saying from either of them used to be: “Go sue me.”

This expression – “Go sue me” – indicated that the person uttering it, as well as the person hearing it, recognized the fact that the court was the final, impartial arbiter of justice – that is, real justice, not the one diluted or tampered with because of money, connections or influence. Although the system was not perfect, it seems it was better in those days.

But times have changed, and so is “the law” and the individuals controlling and handling “the law.” Hence, in Liberia now, it’s safe to say that no one should be quick to challenge another “Go sue me” because when corruption befriends the judicial system, no one has a guarantee that there is anything called “according to the law.” Perhaps the best thing to say, as Siatta’s story below succinctly puts it, is: “I leave my own with God.” It seems there’s no longer anything like “I am on my right point.” No one – it seems – has the right point any longer. The only thing one might always have is the wrong point, except when they are able, willing and ready to speak the language of the judicial system of our day.

About a week ago, I heard the story of two ladies living in the same neighborhood somewhere in Monrovia. One (I’ll call her “Angeline” for the purpose of this article) has a husband who works at one of the government ministries – making a relatively good salary. The other woman (I’ll call her “Siatta”) has a boyfriend who’s a classroom teacher at a primary school owned and operated by his church. The two women fussed and fought over their neighborhood well’s drawing bucket. Those who know the story and how it occurred say Angeline was wrong. In fact, Angeline herself realized it later the same day and decided to approach Siatta to smoke the peace pipe over it. However, when Angeline’s husband came from work that evening and was told what had happened, he got angry, saying his wife shouldn’t have apologized to “that kinda woman.” He then went to the woman, made some acrimonious remarks, threatened to take her to court the following day and left. He works at a government ministry. Upon hearing this, the woman and her mother, as well as her classroom-teacher husband, went to the man that same night and begged him not to sue her. The ministry-worker husband agreed, saving Siatta and her classroom-teacher husband from court proceedings. When Siatta was asked why she did it, when she knew she was on her right point, she responded: “Where do I get the money from to go to court in this our country called Liberia and win the case, especially the courts of these days? Let me just leave my own with God yah.”

Siatta’s experience and her witty words might epitomize how many Liberians feel about our courts. When corruption befriends and kisses the judicial system, connections and positions, not the law, win you cases. In that instance, no one should be brave to tell another: “Go sue me!”

Times have changed. Rights may be wrongs, and wrongs may be rights. It should be remembered, too, that the right side of the law may be the wrong side of the law, and one should not be fast to say that they can win a case because they are on their right point, as they may only win when they are ready with their bribes. This is the judicial system that experience has shown we have, and the US State Department Report says it’s all around us.

When corruption is eating up the court system as the Atlantic Ocean is doing to the beaches of the coast, the people cannot and will not trust our courts, and they will not be brave to challenge anyone: “Go sue me.” Perhaps all they can do is to leave their own with God.

Believe me, my people. We will never stop following the issues.

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