This article does not intend to discredit the Justice system that citizens and residents regard as the last place where their concerns and disagreements can be legally addressed without fear or favor.
The general perception on the justice system in Liberia remains that the system comprises established forums wherein the weak or poor and the strong or rich would fairly be treated equally before the law.
My fellow compatriots, I have taught for a while with the conclusion that justice as it is today in our Liberian society does not actually reflect its true meaning. Its workings in our various courts in terms of dispensation seem to only be favoring a few people for a few reasons.
Considering the fact that justice is the fulcrum of peace, democracy, stability and unity in any nation, one would argue that a robust intervention is needed in its strengthening if the corrupt and undesirable attitudes on the part of those who dispense it against the interest of the poor or weak must be halted or minimized.
As per my little experience in covering the Liberian Judiciary as a reporter over a few years, I have continued to wonder as to whether or not commercial interests have completely superseded impartial justice.
Because of my lack of knowledge, I thought not dwell on how justice was rendered before.
However, with the level of professional maturity, observation and knowledge having been reporting on the Judiciary, I am abreast of reforms in the justice system supported by the international community which could signal to anybody that transformation in the sector must have taken place somehow, but to no avail considering how cases are being adjudicated in courts across Liberia.
There are more reasons to see the justice sectors as the last place of hope, especially so when “Justice is blind”.
Even though I may not be a legal scholar, yet this may suggest to anyone that a judge, juror or professional lawyer may not wrongly decide matters in favor of their uncle, nephew, and in-laws in the face of glaring evidence.
Besides this inscription, there is another powerful writing on the walls of Liberia’s Temple of Justice: “Let Justice be done to all.”. This inscription may also mean that despite being poor or rich, weak or strong, one must not be denied justice in any manner or form.
I did not know earlier that legal matters were not only addressed by legal practitioners, but members of the civil society as well.
This, I thought was more advantageous to everyone at all levels of our society who may be seeking justice, since civil society which always presents itself as advocating for fair play is involved in the dispensation of justice.
Moreover, legal practitioners too could be viewed to be working in the interest of justice for everyone regardless of might or status.
But the question of whether or not justice has now become more commercialized keeps coming to mind when decisions of key stake-holders are not seen to be fairly made in favor of deserving party litigants.
My argument results from comments and actions by disenchanted lawyers, or sometimes judges or even civil society at the end of some trials or cases wherein one party would either stand accused of alleged impropriety that had allegedly influenced whatever decision was made against the affected party.
When civil society representatives, referred to as jurors, make decisions at times, some lawyers would angrily suggest their removal from the justice system.
Lawyers even argue and accuse jurors of being tempered with, making opposite decision in the face of glaring evidences or not comprehending the matter at all, among others.
On the other hand, lawyers would challenge the ruling of a trial judge sometimes for allegedly being biased or having interest in the case.
In some instances where a matter was only presided over by a trial judge to make all decisions and final judgments, an affected party-litigant would again express regrets and frustration at the end of that case, wishing to have a jury trial.
Judges too, at times, accuse some lawyers of misleading clients to pursue cases that they know have no merits, but would yet exploit resources from their clients under the guise of pursuing a trial.
Worst of all, the jurors, who are seen as men and women representing civil society, continue to allegedly bring more tears in the justice system for their personal benefits.
Recently, Liberia’s Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis threatened to fire any court clerk if caught assisting a juror to change his or her name to serve in more than one trial in a year. This would lead one to wonder as to what is the intent of a juror to connive with a court clerk for a change of name only to serve in a trial.
More questions would still arise: Is it the juror’s intent to earn that little stipend after the three month-trial or to help someone of interest in a case?
In a chart with a court clerk recently on the basis of confidentiality, sometimes individuals working in high courts or the justice system plea or use superior influences for the qualification of some names on the jury list.
Are those begging or pleading with court clerks in favor of the interests for participation in additional trials only do so for the stipends at the end of the cases or trials, or to accomplish certain aims? The challenges are visible and uncountable in the Liberian justice system.
Low salaries and benefits, as well as logistical support, among others may be a few of the attributing factors responsible for the dismal performance of our court system works despite all of the efforts of the international community to ‘straighten up things’.
Whether or not these needs, when met, will discourage the “bad nature” of our court system, I think it is better to give it a trial.
The author, Winston W. Parley is a student of the University of Liberia (UL) and a reporter of the New Dawn Newspaper covering the Liberian Justice System.