Liberia’s Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. says demonstrating on the premises of the courts has a chilling effect on justice, warning that it may affect the positions of judges, jurors and witnesses “and thereby deprive the parties … the right to free and fair trial.”
Delivering a charge Monday, 14 March at the opening of the Supreme Court’s March Term graced by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Chief Justice Korkpor said, the spirit of an independent decision is seriously assailed when judicial actors are pressured and coerced.
Though he did not mention any particular incident, the Chief Justice’s comment however followed series of disturbances at the Temple of Justice recently by politicians, who were demanding the release of self-proclaimed advocate Vandala Patricks when he was expected in court for sedition and criminal libel against President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
“Moreover, demonstrating on the court premises amidst clapping, jeering and booing disrupts the decorum and solemn proceedings of court,” he further warned, adding that if this is permitted to be done by one group supporting one party litigant, then it should be permitted for the opposing party litigant as well.
“The result would be chaotic; and justice cannot flourish in such unwholesome condition,” the Chief Justice told the audience. While acknowledging that Article 17 of the Constitution gives the right to assemble … “in an orderly and peaceful manner,” he also reminded the public that the very Constitution places a caveat that such right to assemble should be exercised in a manner that will [not] violate the rights of others.
He additionally clarified that it is no violation of the doctrine of separation of power, as argued in the public, when a petition for remedial writ is entertained by a Justice-in-Chambers, whether against the Executive or Legislative Branch of Government.
Rather, he cited the prerogative granted by the law and exercised by the Justice-in-Chambers as adding value to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, which all Liberians and residents have a sacred duty to uphold.
“Under the guidance of the Constitution, the Judiciary has the duty to protect not only the individual citizens and residents, but even the branches of the government, while still ensuring that the separation of the branches of the Government is maintained,” he explained.
He noted that in determining the contents of the petitions brought before the Supreme Court for the issuance of remedial processes against the Executive or Legislative Branch of Government, the Court has never questioned the wisdom of the action taken or decisions made by those branches of Government.
He instead told the public that the court’s sole purpose in consonance with the Constitution has always been to ensure that the decision or action is in line with the due process of law.
By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Jonathan Browne