Authorities at the judiciary are said to be struggling on how to dissociate that branch of government from jurors serving here, as “judges of facts,” amid allegations of corruption within the justice system despite several reform measures.
The development comes as court officials here blame jurors for the increasing public perception of corruption within the justice system. Several international reports, amongst them the United States most recent Human Rights report also labeled the judiciary as being corrupt.
But addressing court officials at the Supreme Court Banquet Hall Thursday July 30, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. said poor decisions by jurors in cases have spurred such public perceptions. “Some people go there purposely because they want to sit on the cases and spoil the cases,” Justice Korkpor told his audience, adding “their (jurors) intention is not just the little money they would be paid after jury service.”
He said these poor decisions by jurors inform public “interpretation” and “perception” against the court squarely indict judges for being “corrupt” or having taken “bribes” to set defendants free.
The chief justice said selected jurors are not lawyers and don’t know the law – they have not been to law school, he argued. Jurors, he continued are ordinary people drawn from everywhere in the society when courts are about to open to sit on cases.
But he contended that when jurors who have been “compromised” spoil cases, “every blame is on the judiciary.” “It is not the court alone” that decides a case,” he emphasized. “Whether it has to do with someone being indicted for stealing money or a civil case. Let’s say it’s a murder case, once you say yes, we have heard the case this person is guilty, that person is guilty. Of course, there’s exception – the judge is empowered by law to set aside what we call your verdict and award a new trial. But almost all the time what the jurors say is what will obtain,” said the Chief Justice.
“… And the interpretation, the perception of the public is that once you have decided … oh, the court decided the case. That man took money, they stole … money but the court freed them. It’s not the court alone, it is you. You have decided the case. What has the judge done? And sometimes they just go on and say the judge took bribe,” he argued further.
Underscoring the role of jurors in the Liberian society as “very important,” Justice Korkpor wondered “what has the court done” to face the kind of public perception it faces. He emphasized that there were instances where jurors decide “wrong” or “right” in a given case, and a judge would set aside the jurors’ verdict to award a new trial, which, he said, is not to set a defendant free from charges.
“But you have decided – you say wrong, you say right; you say the person not guilty, the person not liable – what has the court done? Nothing, except as I said in some cases the judge is authorized by law to say we will set aside the verdict and award …,” he argued.
But he noted that the interpretation and perception from the public was that once jurors had decided a case, automatically it means the court has decided the case. “…That man took money; they stole … money, but the court freed them. It’s not the court alone, it is you. You have decided the case,” he told prospective jurors recently.
He expressed the belief that the public doesn’t know, and the Judiciary does not “follow everything they say in the press.” “When Jury decides case, you say the court is this way, that way – you don’t know, you don’t care to know. You don’t read,” he said.
However, Justice Korkpor said about two years ago; a new jury law was passed, amending the old law which now requires a jury national office be established and reform the service. By Winston W. Parley -Edited by Othello B. Garblah