Liberia’s Solicitor General Cllr. Saymah Syrenius Cephus says the court here clearly undermines its own credibility, warning that it is one of the problems in building a capable state.“For a court that choses and paints to deal with situation in addressing compelling national issues, the court clearly undermines its own credibility. This is one of the problems in building a capable state, looking back, moving forward in Liberia’s development,” Cllr. Cephus said on Monday, 12 August at the Temple of Justice.
He argued at the opening of the Criminal Courts Monday that in some instances, judges here are not respected largely because they befriend some lawyers practicing before court.According to him, at one point when there is disagreement, it is the same lawyers who will go to the public and discuss the judges.
Cllr. Cephaus continues that in other instances, counsellors and lawyers don’t get assignments, lamenting that others stay in their offices and make a phone call and get assignment while others who write for assignments don’t get them.“Of course that amounts to the kind of problem we’re having. So people who supposed to get a fair hearing, and then justice, whatever the situation, are being denied the opportunity to be heard,” Cephus stresses.
He recalls a case in 2012 where he claims that the Minister of Justice at the time simply called a judge to give excuse for not going to court.
But Cllr. Cephus narrates that he had to hurry from Kakata, Margibi County to come to court while the Justice Minister was simply making a call to be excused from court.
Upon appearing in court, Cllr. Cephus recalls that he was told that the Minister of Justice had asked for excuse and would therefore not have appeared that day.However, Cllr. Cephus says in a subsequent case, he was required to write an excuse, unlike the Justice Minister that simply made a phone call.
Further, Cllr. Cephus observes that most times the courts, lawyers and legal practitioners prefer to deal with certain lawyers, certain judges and certain people’s presence in a case before the case is assigned.According to Cllr. Cephus, rather than leaving the situation head on, the argument is placed at the quality of the person standing, and not at the quality of the argument raised.
Cephus says he has been on both sides, so he has been able to see and understand the dynamics, enabling him to be able to put [the issue] in proper context.But in response to Cllr. Cephus’ assertions, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. says “there is no hard proof to that effect … that judges are selectively assigning cases.”
“… There’s no hard proof to that effect, I don’t want you to say that judges are selectively assigning cases. No. I don’t think they’re doing that,” says Chief Justice Korkpor.He says if judges are selectively assigning cases it will be wrong, urging that it be reported with hard proof to the Judicial Inquiry Committee and the Grievance and Ethics Committee.
According to Chief Justice Korkpor, the law says that the court can assign a case, but notes however that it will be better for the lawyer to request for assignment.“Don’t select cases as the Solicitor General tried to insinuate,” Chief Justice Korkpor cautions judges.
He notes that when the court opens, the [the courts should proceed] on the basis of first – come – first – serve.
In the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice says when the court opens, the justices start with the calendar of events motion and bail of information, after which they start with government cases in accordance with the law.Chief Justice Korkpor notes that if judges here go and assign the case, they would create the impression that they have a special interest in that case.
At the same time the Chief Justice indicates that he always admonishes lawyers here at the opening of courts not to be late in putting in their assignments to the clerk of court.Earlier delivering a charge at the opening of the Criminal Courts, Judge Roosevelt Z. Willie, threw a question out for all Liberians to answer if they have learned from their past mistakes and whether corrective measures have been taken?
Judge Willie drew his question from a presentation that he says he made in 2012 in the U.S. at the 44th Annual Conference of the Liberian Studies Association held under the theme: “Building a capable state: Looking back, moving forward in Liberia’s development.”
He recalls that the theme at that conference was specially predicated on findings by the International Crisis Group which indicated that the justice system here which includes the Judiciary, was one of the root causes of Liberia’s civil war that resulted to over 250,000 deaths.Judge Willie’s question sparked the response of Solicitor General Chephas, and the subsequent response of Chief Justice Korkpor.
Judge Willie urges Liberians including Justices, Judges, Magistrates and other justice actors here to learn from the country’s past mistakes so that development doesn’t elude the citizenry.He recalls that the report by the International Crisis Group spelled out that the judiciary here was subservient to the executive and the legislative branches of government, citing widespread corruption in the judiciary as judges and magistrates were not adequately compensated.
He cautions that other nations and organizations will not always be there to help, saying the country should learn from its past mistakes so that development doesn’t elude its citizens.By Winston W. Parley