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Chief Justice calls SG to order

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Liberia’s Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., has warned Solicitor General Cllr. SaymahSyreniusCephus against making claim that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction over the Legislature in a situation of mandamus, saying such writing gives the wrong signal to the public and the lawmakers, urging him to stop.

“You are Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia, when you speak, it goes with authority. So when you are writing something like this and it is carried through your brief, people tend to believe it. Don’t do that!” Chief Justice Korkpor warned Cllr. Cephus Monday, 19 October during argument into a petition for a writ of mandamus filed by opposition Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).

The CPP case concerns the alleged failure of the Legislature to abide by Article 37 of the Liberian Constitution to notify the NEC of two vacancies in the Legislature within constitutional time of 30 days after the deaths of Sinoe County Rep. NagbeSloh and Montserrado County Rep. MunahPennoh Youngblood and cause by – elections to be held.

The CPP wants an answer if the NEC and the Legislature are in compliance with their legal duty by setting 8 December 2020 as the date for the two by – elections caused by the death on 20 June 2020 of Sinoe Rep. J. NagbeSloh and the death on 8 July 2020 of Montserrado Rep. MunahPennoh Youngblood.

It also wants the court to determine whether mandamus can lie on the Legislature and the NEC if they did not comply with their legal duties; and whether their failure to set the by – election date within the constitutional time frame offends democratic values.

During the argument Monday, Chief Justice Korkpor read Count 13 of Cllr. Cephus’ returns before the Court which in part declares as illegal and unconstitutional, Associate Justice Sie-A- Nyene G. Yuoh’s instruction and mandate for the Legislature to appear before her on or before 15 October 2020 by filing its returns.
In this case Cllr. Cephus represents the Legislature and the Executive branches.

He claims that “in so far as it relates to the person and office of the Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives and the members of the 54th National Legislature,” the mandate of Associate Justice Yuoh instructing and mandating the House of Representatives and the Legislature to ‘appear’ by filing their returns before her is illegal and unconstitutional. Further, Cephus insists in the returns that Justice Yuoh’s mandate or order violates the constitutional doctrine of separation of power.

But according to the Chief Justice Korkpor, when Cllr. Cephus “start writing like this, then it gives wrong signal to the public that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the Legislature and they themselves start believing it.”

“So what she did is unconstitutional to say show cause to see why the petitioners’ petition should not be granted? It’s unconstitutional, the action of the Justice?” the Chief Justice asks.

In response, Cllr. Cephus says he was referring to the office of the Speaker, not an ordinary person.
“But in any case, let me tell you counsellor, you know you are an officer of this court, you help to maintain law and order,” Chief Justice Korpor notes.

He states that many times the Supreme Court has had prohibitions upon prohibitions filed against the House of Representatives, the Senate, or sometimes a faction of the Senate or a faction of the House of Representatives would file these remedial writs.

He adds that “this Supreme Court does not call a party and say please come,” adding: “We don’t use the word we request.”

“This court acts through mandate, order, directive, these are the words from the court because we don’t bring the parties to court. They were brought by people and to the extent that we feel and it is correctly so that we have jurisdiction over the case we mandate you to come,” he continues.

“It’s not the Speaker we’re speaking to, our colleague heads a branch of government. We have that authority to do that,” Chief Justice Korpor says.

Finally Cllr. Cephus says he concedes, having earlier insisted that the only thing the Supreme Court could do was to declare the act unconstitutional, but to mandate.

According to Cephus, Legislature is a branch of the Liberian government, it’s not a ministerial office or a ministerial duty, emphasizing that it’s a co – equal branch of this government.

“The power granted this court pursuant to Article 2 of the 1986 Constitution there are four powers. The power to review, the power to interpret, the power to declare and the power to mandate,” he continues.
He adds that when the Legislature performs an act that is considered illegal or unconstitutional, “the only thing this court can do is to declare that act unconstitutional and that declaration is pursuant to Article 2, but to mandate, no.”

Earlier in his opening statement, Cllr. Cephus alleged that when he received the CPP’s petition, he circulated it around the world and he didn’t find anywhere in the world where there has been anywhere in time a writ will issue in the form of mandamus against the Legislature. He argues that the language and context of Article 37 is clear and unambiguous, saying it refers to a presiding officer which can be any member at the time presiding.

But in CPP’s petition, Cephus notes that his colleagues named the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the 103 members of the Legislature. He insists that if the respondents had not acted in the pale of the law, there would be no scheduled election, saying the entire petition is naked.

By Winston W. Parley

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