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Constitutional crisis brews

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A possible constitutional crisis appears to be brewing here between the House of Representatives on one hand and the Supreme Court on the other over the refusal of the former to honor a stay order issued by the latter.

The case grows out of an impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabinah Ja’neh to which lawyers representing the Associate Justice had filed a Writ of Prohibition but members of the House of Representative have remained defiant against the constitutional court to stay further proceedings on the issue.

Both parties were due to appear before the court Wednesday August 22, 2018 but the lawmakers refused to show up after vowing on Saturday August 18, 2018, not to honor any intervention. They documented their rebellious move via a letter on Saturday, 18 August addressed to Associate Justice in Chambers Sie – A – Nyeneh Yuoh, saying that the writ she issued violated the separation of powers clause.

“The House thinks that the Writ violates Article 3 separation of powers clause, Article 42 immunities clause, Article 43 impeachment powers and a long line of cases and precedence in this jurisdiction and its progeny,” the House’s letter reads.

True to their words, the lawmakers on Monday August 20, 2018 snubbed the Supreme Court’s request that they filed their returns ahead of the Wednesday hearing.

The defiant move by members of the House left the full bench of the Supreme Court with no other option on Wednesday but to issue a one week ultimatum for both Associate Justice Ja’neh’s lawyers and the Minister of Justice Cllr. Musa Dean who was due to file a position “on the side of the law” to do more research and adequately prepare to file the necessary papers.

Following lawmakers’ refusal to attend the Supreme Court hearing scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. says the Court had on Monday instructed its clerk to issue a notice of assignment to parties involved in the case under review.

But Chief Justice Korkpor says the Court notes the absence of the respondents (lawmakers) and takes keen note of a letter from the House.

Two lawmakers from the ruling coalition government Acarus Gray and Thomas Fallah have moved the House to process impeachment against Justice Ja’neh on accusation of alleged proved misconduct and corruption, among others.

And the House has refused to honor the intervention of the Supreme Court after Justice Ja’neh’s lawyer filed a petition for a writ of prohibition before Justice Yuoh against his impeachment.

At the call of the case Wednesday, one of Justice Ja’neh’s counsels Cllr. James E. Pier requested for additional time to prepare a detailed comprehensive brief because the issue raised in the case were grave and far-reaching.

Cllr. Pier suggests that issues raised in this case might deal with the role of the Judiciary and the constitutional principle for judicial review which was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case Marlboro vs U.S. more than 250 years ago as a principle of judicial law.

Representing Minister Dean, Liberia’s Solicitor General Cllr. Darku Mulbah also requested continuance for one week to allow him file a brief in keeping with the mandate of the Court in which the Attorney General Dean was mandated to file a brief concerning relevant laws relating to the prohibition proceedings.

Cllr. Mulbah says it would require research to acquire the requisite legal citation relevant to the issue at bar.

The Court did not appear to be pleased by the excuses given by both counsels, particularly for the petitioners whom the Court indicates that they ought to have been prepared for the case on Wednesday.

But they both were given one week to file their briefs as of the date of the hearing on Wednesday, 22 August.

Being a party in the case, Justice Ja’neh has recused himself from the hearing and determination of the case, leaving it in the hands of the three remaining Justices inclusive Mr. Korkpor, Madam Jamesetta Howard – Wolokolie and Madam Yuoh.

The move to impeach Justice Ja’neh has gained momentum in the lower House with about half of the representatives on Capitol Hill allegedly prepared to sign up to impeach him.

From the look of things, this case might turn out to be yet another landmark legal battle that is developing between the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court due to the unwillingness of the House to honor calls from the nation’s highest court to hearings.

Similar test of powers emerged between the Legislature and Judiciary last year during the political seasons; but a swift intervention by senior UN Peacekeeping officials quiet down the political turmoil.

That case also had to do with lawmakers seeking the impeachment of three Justices, including Justice Ja’neh.

By Winston W. Parley-Edited by Othello B. Garblah

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