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Chief Justice, Attorney General differ

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Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor and the country’s Attorney-General, Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh have disagreed on causes for congestion of pre-trail detainees at the Monrovia Central Prison with both officials providing diverse accounts.

At the opening of the Supreme Court of Liberia for the October 2015 Term were President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Senate President Pro-tempore Amah Zolu Jallah, members of the diplomatic corps and government officials.

Delivering a charge at the opening of the Supreme Court of Liberia for the October 2015 Term, Chief Justice Korkpor alarmed that “prolonged detention without trial” remains a serious challenge within the justice sector here.

He warned that keeping suspects behind bars over the period allowed by statute without trial amounts to travesty of justice. “Our law provides for speedy trial of cases with priority given to criminal cases. Where there is no evidence to proceed to trial, there are adequate provisions of law for the release of the detained person. This is done without prejudice to the State that prayed for the issuance of the criminal writ,” Chief Justice Korkpor explained.

But debunking the Chief Justice’s assertion, Justice Minister Sannoh argued, “the system” itself has produced imperial magistrates mainly in Montserrado County and its environs. The Attorney-General accused magistrates in the country of making themselves very powerful, citing alleged imposition of “excessive bail bonds” against an accused person.

He described such alleged behavior by magistrates as imperial, while alluding that pretrial detention itself is unfortunately unavoidable. Chief Justice Korkpor had said the [Judiciary] in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice established the “magistrate sitting program” at the Monrovia Central Prison in an attempt to curb or in the very least minimize “this perennial problem” of prolonged detention.

“We have” continue to advice and encourage magistrates and judges to take full advantage of provisions under the law for alternatives to incarceration and the need to promptly attend to court cases. But referring to a “recent report,” he alarmed that the population of the Monrovia Central Prison has increased with 84 percent of inmates therein constituting pretrial detainees, saying, “This is alarming.”

According to the Chief Justice, the program requires magistrates, public defenders and prosecutors to meet at the prison on a scheduled basis and review cases of detainees for speedy action, recalling that for some time, especially during the Ebola crisis, progress was made as pretrial detention throughout Liberia was reduced to minimum.

He promised however that “concrete steps” will be taken in coming months to address the problem of pretrial detention. The Judiciary has announced that 60 persons graduating under the magistrate training program will serve as associate magistrates throughout the country with the aim of eventually training and deploying a total of 300 magistrates as part of reform in the judiciary.

By Winston W. Parley –Edited by Jonathan Browne

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