Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor Sr. seems to be weighing in on the ongoing debate over President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s letter requesting the Legislature to grant her power suspending certain rights as provided in the constitution, saying that under a state of emergency certain constitutional rights may be suspended.
A letter from President Sirleaf to the National Legislature dated October 1, requesting that certain restrictive measures were to be taken on keen Articles, including the alteration of October special Senatorial Elections has spurred serious debates amidst protest, with reports of the lower House rejection over the weekend.
But speaking at the opening of the October 2014 Term of Court, in what could be seen as closing the debate here on the quest for power by the Executive, Chief Justice Korkpor urged Liberians and other residents to remain cautious, alert and obey all measures declared and enunciated to fight the Ebola virus.
He added that during a state of emergency, the President is authorized to exercise a range of powers and to curtail certain rights otherwise available to citizens and residents of this nation during normal times. He said during this period the courts, under the Constitution remain functional in order to guide against any excesses by the Legislative or Executive Branches of the Government during the state of emergency.
“Therefore, we urge all citizens and foreign nationals residing in our country to be cognizant of the limitations on the exercise of certain constitutional and statutory rights during this period of the state of emergency,” he said on the program which was graced by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, members of the Legislature and top diplomats.
He emphasized that while the Constitution provides for a government with three co-equal branches, it is absolutely essential that these branches “coordinate” and cooperate with one another during this critical period to achieve the common goal of eradicating the Ebola virus. He says cooperation by the three branches of the Government especially at this time does not mean that any one branch will relinquish any of its powers to one or the other two branches.
He said as it stands the Ebola virus is the “outmost concern” of all Liberians, and fears that whatever gains made in the Judiciary and Liberia at large, will be marred and rendered meaningless “as long as the menace is still with us.”
Considering the present danger to Liberia’s survival under this outbreak, the Chief Justice wants Liberians to unite and fight back “with every strength to defeat the common enemy.” But Chief Justice Korkpor reminded Liberians that through collective resolve and resiliency, the country can overcome Ebola as was done in overcoming the effects of the Rice Riots and the Military coup.
Committing the Judicial Branch’s commitment to the national effort against Ebola, Chief Justice Korkpor pledged him and his colleague justices’ preparedness to contribute one month of their salaries and allowances spread over a period of four months.
The justices resolved that the contribution will be deducted from their income at a rate of twenty-five percent per month, while judges of lower courts and senior support staff have “also agreed to make similar contributions.”
“… But theirs will be one-half (1/2) of their monthly salaries and allowances to be deducted in the same manner as stated above,” he announced yesterday in additional to previous measures instituted by the judiciary. He lamented that citizens and foreign nationals have lost their lives to the dreadful disease, and there is no indication that it has been fully contained in Liberia.
Pointing to current statistics that Liberia accounts for more than half of the 4,000 deaths among the worst affected Ebola nations, including Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria, he said the statistics were “very grim and alarming.” He has, however, suggested that at such time, in Liberia, all other things must give way or be subordinated to the threat, warning that “the alternative is for us to do nothing and perish.
He has meanwhile thanked the UN and its numerous agencies operating here in the EU, US and its agencies, the African Union and sister states of Africa, among others for their commitments to Liberia.
Opening Address of His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr.
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Liberia
October Term 2014
October 13, 2014
Mr. Speaker& Members of the House of Representatives;
Mr. President Pro Tempore& Members of the Senate;
My Colleagues of the Supreme Court Bench;
The Acting Minister of Justice & Dean of the Supreme Court Bar;
Former Chief Justices & Associate Justices;
High Officials of the United Nations Mission in Liberia;
Ambassadors & other Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Circuit & Specialized Court Judges;
The President & Members of the Liberian National Bar Association;
The President & Members of the Association of Female Lawyers;
Staff of the Judiciary; Members of the Press; Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
I welcome all of you on behalf of the Supreme Court and the entire Judiciary to this ceremony marking the formal opening of the October, 2014 term of this Court. Let me particularly welcome our Colleague, Mr. Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, III back on the Bench. About the middle of June this year, it became necessary for Justice Banks to travel to the United States of America where he underwent operation on his eyes. We are happy that the operation was successful and he is back with us. He has since resumed his assignment as Justice in Chambers.
We also welcome from abroad, Madam Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie from a well-deserved vacation after having served for more than six months in the Chambers of this Court. We expect that Madam Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh will be with us by the coming week when we begin to hear and determine cases.
We regret to inform you of the death of CounsellorJ.D. Baryogar Junius, former Associate Justice of this Court. He died on July 3, 2014, at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital where he was taken upon falling ill. Counsellor Junius served the Judiciary, as well as the other branches of the Government of the Republic of Liberia in many high ranking positions: Associate Justice, Supreme Court of Liberia, Senator, Grand Bassa County, Resident Circuit Judge, Grand Bassa County, Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice, Assistant Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Coordinator of the Public Defense Program within the Judiciary, etc.
We also lost other dedicated Liberians who served in the Judiciary. In order of ranks, they are:
NAME: POSITION: ASSIGNMENT: DATE OF DEATH:
1. His Honor Augustine Beateah Traffic Judge Traffic Ct., Harper City, Md. Co. April 5, 2014
2. His Honor Sayou Nagbe Assoc. Mag. Glarrow Mag. Ct., River Gee Co. June 30, 2014
3. His Honor Daniel D. Jiffan Assoc. Mag. Baffubay Mag. Ct., Sinoe Co. June 17, 2014
4. Mr. Gyasi Dickson Ex. Secretary Grievance & Ethics Comm., TOJ Sept. 5, 2014
5. Ms. Mary Fineboy Paymistress Finance Division, TOJ June 25, 2014
6. Mr. Eugene Stevens Probate Clerk 13th Judicial Circuit, Margibi Co. May 25, 2014
7. Mr. Francis Sackor Bailiff Debt Court, Mont. Co. August 29, 2014
8. Mr. Daniel Kpakolo Bailiff Criminal Court “C”, TOJ Sept.10, 2014
9. Mr. Thomas Sarlee Bailiff Harper City Mag. Ct., Md. Co. Aug.5, 2014
10. Ms. Decontee Seah Caretaker Maintenance Division, TOJ April 1, 2014
11. Ms. Margaret S. Nagbe Caretaker Maintenance Division, TOJ July 27, 2014
12. Mr. Alfred D. K. Phelps Chauffeur Transport Division, TOJ Sept. 14, 2014
13. Mr. Richard Kpagbor Gardener Maintenance Division, TOJ Aug. 2, 2014
Although not a member of the Judiciary, I like to mention the passing of my mother, Madam Kou Suah Korkpor. She died on September 3, 2014 at the age of 91 at the United Methodist Hospital in Ganta, Nimba County. We pray that God will forgive these fallen Liberians of their sins and grant them eternal rest. Amen!
Madam President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Pro Tempore, My Colleagues, Members of the Bar, Ladies and Gentlemen, the practice is that at the time of the opening of each term of the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice uses the occasion to inform the other Branches of the Government and the entire nation on the general state of affairs in the Judiciary during the immediate past term and gives a projection of what is expected for the current term. Or the Chief Justice may talk on matters relating to the administration of justice and rule of law within the courts and the development of our jurisprudence. I will depart from this tradition a little bit today and talk briefly on: the need for a collective effort to eradicate the Ebola virus from our country.
There can be no disagreement that the virus is the outmost concern, or should I say worry, of all Liberians today. It is ravaging our country in no small measures with serious impact on our economy. It is changing our way of life. Whatever gains made in the Judiciary and in the entire country will be marred and rendered meaningless as long as the menace is still with us. Many citizens and foreign nationals have lost their lives to the dreadful disease, and as I speak, there is no indication that it has been fully contained in Liberia. Rather, report is that it is still spreading faster and exponentially. What started in one county in February this year has now reached all fifteen counties in our country. Current statistics show that a total of four thousand (4,000) people have died from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria, the four countries in West Africa where the outbreak has been reported, and that Liberia accounts for more than half of the deaths.
Furthermore and according to experts, unless drastic measures are taken, as many as one million four hundred thousand (1,400,000) people in Liberia and Sierra Leone are likely to be infected with the virus by the end of January, 2015. These are very grim and alarming statistics. Indeed, at this pace, the virus is posing a clear and present danger to our survival as a people and existence as a nation. When a people are faced with such imminent threat, the thing to do is to unite and fight back with every strength to defeat the common enemy. All other things, at such time, must give way or be subordinated to the threat. The alternative is for us to do nothing and perish. This we cannot and will not do. It therefore behooves us as a people and a nation to rise to the occasion.
The fate of Liberia is primarily in the hands of us Liberians. What we do or fail to do will determine our destiny. We must work together when the interest of our country is at stake. We must put aside our differences and appreciate our diversity as our strength rather than as our weakness. A diverse nation draws from its strength rather than its weakness. The virus knows no bounds; it does not distinguish between religion, tribe, political party, rich or poor, man or woman or black and white. We must realize that as individual members of the Liberian society, we depend on the collective efforts and will of the greater society for our protection, security and wellbeing. This is because our collective will and strength enable us to react to situations that are likely to endanger or destroy our existence as a nation and people. We must therefore cooperate with each other and with constituted authorities in this critical time for the good of our nation.
We appreciate and are grateful to the international community for the numerous outpours of material and financial assistance to fight the virus. We thank the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, the European Union, the African Union and sister states of Africa, Samaritan Purse, MedecinSans Frontiere, the Government and People of China, Japan ,the Federal Republic of Germany, Cuba and all that are helping us. We particularly thank the Government of the United States of America, who, in addition to financial and material assistance, has sent a large number of military personnel here to help us construct facilities for treating those infected or suspected of being infected with the virus. I submit, however, that friendly countries and international organizations may help with resources and technical expertise, but the battle to rid Liberia of Ebola is primarily for us Liberians. No one can do for us what we are required to do for ourselves.
The Judiciary took an early lead in putting in place precautionary measures against the virus. We invited experts from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare who talked to Justices, Judges and the workforce. We fumigated the entire Temple of Justice, including the surrounding courts. And we have continued to institute all measures recommended by medical and health authorities for the prevention of the disease which include: washing hands with water and recommended decontaminants and using thermometer to check the temperature of personnel of the Judiciary and visitors entering our premises, etc. We are informed that the virus is transmitted through person to person contacts when the saliva, sweat, blood, semen etc. from an infected person come into contact with a nun infected person. Therefore, we are advised to modify our behavior and refrain from engaging in orthodox traditional and cultural practices, especially as relates to funerals, burials, feasting public gathering in large numbers, hugging, kissing and handshaking.
We have had several meetings with the trial judges, especially Magistrates and Associate Magistrates and advised them to exercise available discretionary powers under sections 10.12 and 13.5 of the Criminal Procedure Law which provide options to arrest and detention. The judges were warned that even in the event where it is mandatory that a defendant be committed to jail, such as in a matter involving a non-bailable offense, under no circumstance should a person infected or suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus be incarcerated. Instead, arrangement should be made with the involvement of the Ministry of Justice, to refer such a person to the health authorities for testing and/ or treatment. The objective is to control the number of persons in prisons/jails throughout the country and guide against over crowdedness and prevent the outbreak of the virus in our jails and prisons. Judges were further advised to exercise caution and avoid eviction arising from ejectment and summary proceedings to recover possession of real property during this difficult period when there are restrictions on the movement of people.
Similarly, we had a meeting with the leadership of the Liberian National Bar Association where we agreed that during this period, bench trial, rather than jury trial, should be encouraged. This is intended to avoid sequestrating and congregating jurors in one location thereby preventing physical contact which is a sure means of transmitting the virus. Overall, we are pleased with the responses and involvements of the judges and the members of the bar regarding the fight against the Ebola scourge. We recognize and commend the effort of the Association of Trial Judges who purchased and distributed anti-Ebola materials to courts in and around Monrovia as well as other parts of the country. We also recognize and commend the Liberian National Bar Association for its effort in setting up a Media Committee that is sensitizing people about the dangers of the virus. It would be good if the next quarterly assembly of the Bar could be exclusively devoted to further inform the public about the virus.
Madam President, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Pro Tempore, My Colleagues, Members of the Bar, Ladies and Gentlemen, I recall that the Ebola virus epidemic is the fourth time in our modern history this nation has been subjected to a serious trial. The other previous trials occurred during the Rice Riots of April 14, 1979; the Military coup d’état of April 12, 1980; and the Civil War which commenced on December 24, 1989, and lasted for nearly fourteen years. Through our collective resolve and resiliency, we were able to overcome the effects of the Rice Riots and the effects of the Military coup; and we were well on our way to overcoming the consequences of the Civil War when we were struck by the present calamity. I believe that just as we did in the past, we can, as a nation acting in union strong, succeed in this fight against the Ebola virus and stop its calamitous effect on our nation. Fortunately, history tells us that this virus, wherever it has shown its ugly face, has been contained. When announcing his Government’s plan to help us fight the Ebola virus, this is what President Barack Obama said: “…Every outbreak of Ebola over the past40 years has been contained, and we are confident that this one can, and will be as well”.
To “contain the spread and bring an end to the Ebola Virus,” the President of Liberia, pursuant to the powers vested in her by the Constitution, declared a state of emergency on August 6, 2014.Under a state of emergency, certain constitutional as well statutory rights may be suspended. The declaration is required to outline the specific rights that are or to be affected. However, the Constitution recognizes that during a state of emergency like what now obtains in our country, our courts shall remain functional in order to guide against any excesses by the Legislative or Executive Branches of the Government. The Judiciary remains seized with the duty and is authorized even in the environment of the state of emergency to determine the obligations, responsibilities and liabilities of the Government to the citizenry in appropriate justiciable cases brought before the courts by citizens or group of citizens alleging violation of their constitutional rights not suspended under or otherwise affected by the declaration of the state of emergency. Article 26 of the Constitution provides:
“Where any person or any association alleges that any of the rights granted under this Constitution or any legislation or directives are constitutionally contravened, that person or association may invoke the privilege and benefit of court direction, order or writ, including a judgment of unconstitutionality; and anyone injured by an act of the Government or any person acting under its authority, whether in property, contract, tort or otherwise, shall have the right to bring suit for appropriate redress…”
The Constitution further provides that the right of habeas corpus shall remain available and exercisable and shall not be suspended during a state of emergency. Therefore, our courts are opened and shall remain opened at all times for regular operations and to entertain any petition for the writ of habeas corpus, if any that may be filed. We recognize that in these difficult times, the role of the Judiciary in ensuring a civil and an orderly society in which the freedoms, civil liberties and rights of our people are protected is critical.
Under Liberian law, the Republic of Liberia, as a party litigant, has no special rights and enjoys no special privileges that are not available to ordinary persons the Republic may bring to court or vice-versa. Instead, the Republic of Liberia is subject to all applicable procedural rules of court as well as applicable substantive laws and shall be treated as such. The only exception to this general rule is in cases where the application of the general rule would compromise national security or a vital national interest. We therefore want to assure all citizens and residents of this nation that during this period of state of emergency, the Judiciary will not relent in its constitutional mandates; it will continue to perform its role as the anchor of our Government to which our people look for redress of their grievances and the guarantor of their freedoms and liberties. Citizens and foreign residents who may be aggrieved during this time are urged to remain law abiding and seek recourse to the law.
We must note, however, that during a state of emergency, the Constitution authorizes the President to exercise a range of powers and to curtail certain rights otherwise available to citizens and residents of this nation during normal times. Therefore, we urge all citizens and foreign nationals residing in our country to be cognizant of the limitations on the exercise of certain constitutional and statutory rights during this period of the state of emergency. They must remain cautious, alert and obey all measures declared and enunciated to fight the Ebola virus.
Now, while our Constitution provides for a government with three co-equal branches, each with separate powers and functions, it is absolutely essential that these branches “coordinate” and cooperate with one another during this critical period of our nation to achieve the common goal of eradicating the Ebola virus. Cooperation by the three branches of the Government especially at this time does not mean that any one branch will relinquish any of its powers to one or the other two branches. It does not mean for example, that the Judiciary will not perform its traditional role as a disinterested and impartial arbiter of disputes, whether such disputes are between the other two branches of the Government, or between one or two of them and one or more private citizens, or between two or more private citizens. What it means is that each branch must work in harmony with the other branches, just as ordinary citizens of this country with different backgrounds and persuasions are required to work together to eradicate the virus. After all, there can be no Legislative, no Executive or Judiciary Branch of Government if the virus overwhelms us all. We must first act to survive as a people, government and country before we can even talk of the separateness of our branches of government.
In this connection, the Judiciary will collaborate with the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government in every lawful venture and initiative in fighting the virus. As a concrete demonstration of our commitment to fight the Ebola virus my Colleagues and I have resolved to contribute and are prepared to one month of our salaries and allowances spread over a period of four months and deducted from our income at a rate of twenty-five percent (25%) per month.
We have conferred with judges of our lower courts and the senior support staff of the Judiciary. They have also agreed to make similar contributions, but theirs will be one-half (1/2) of their monthly salaries and allowances to be deducted in the same manner as stated above. We believe that such contribution should be made by all Liberians. During the coming week, I shall convene a meeting with the general staff of the Judiciary to secure from them similar commitment to contribute to this national cause.
We wish to encourage the members of the Legislative Branch of Government, all Liberian citizens, those working in government and public as well as private corporations, and those who are self-employed(with the exception of doctors, nurses, and other health workers who are our front-line soldiers in the fight against Ebola) to consider making similar contributions to save our people and our nation. As we see it, this contribution is necessary not only to demonstrate our concern and commitment to eradicate the virus from our country, but it will also convey the message of our ownership of the drive to combat and eliminate the virus. And this will even embolden the resolve of the many friendly nations and international organizations that are providing material and human assistance to us.
We are pleased to note that the President was thinking in the same direction, for on September 11, 2014, she addressed a letter to us informing us that she had approved a proposal to have members of the Executive Branch of Government make contribution to the Ebola Trust Fund and solicited our consideration of similar program in the Judiciary. Madam President, we are pleased to identify with this worthy venture.
The strictest accountability mechanism must be put into place to ensure proper use of such funds.
Members of the Bar, this is a short term. I admonish you to make assignments of your cases early.
May God Bless the Works of Our Hands in the Judiciary and Save Our Country