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Gongloe, Justice Kaba faceoff

-On judicial independence

Two renowned Liberian lawyers have drawn the line here on where they stand on judicial independence as Liberia hosts the African Regional Group Conference and Conference of the International Association of Judges (IAJ) in Monrovia.

By Lincoln G. Peters 

Monrovia, Liberia, May 9, 2024—Former Presidential candidate and renowned Human Rights Lawyer Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia Justice Yussif D. Kaba disagree about judicial independence and integrity in Liberia and Africa, generally.  

On Wednesday, May 8, 2024, Associate Justice Kaba provided a legal presentation and scholastic paper on “Reflecting on judicial independence and justice for all in a democratic state within the African context.” 

Justice Kaba argues that many African Countries are often marred by challenges such as political interference, lack of adequate resources, corruption, and systematic weakness in legal framework, thus recommending increased budgetary allocation to address these challenges and promote independence. 

However, Cllr. Gongloe resists the idea that no amount of money can promote the independence of the Judiciary because judicial independence should start from within. 

Justice Kaba maintains that political interference poses a significant challenge to judicial independence in many African countries, undermining the judiciary’s impartiality and integrity.

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He cites the appointment of judges in some cases by political leaders as a threat also because political leaders appoint judges based on loyalty rather than merit, compromising judicial independence. 

The judge further argues that corruption in the Judiciary “can take various forms, including bribery, nepotism and cronyism, lack of transparency and erosion of public trust.” He notes that promoting judicial integrity involves fostering training and professionalism and, importantly, increasing the judiciary’s budget. 

But Cllr. Gongloe counters that money doesn’t bring integrity; therefore, he says the Judiciary must not put the need for independence on the other two branches of government. 

“No amount of money can give the Judiciary independence. There was a time when judges and justices earned Three Hundred United States Dollars, but they were considered to be little more independent than now that Judges are making ten times that amount,” he explains. 

He says that a high salary for Judges will not change them or improve integrity; rather, it will just increase bribery.

The former solicitor general discloses that he was on a case in 2006 before the Supreme Court of Liberia on Presidential Amenities. The High Court ruled that it couldn’t define Presidential Amenities.

He gives another example of the President demanding a re-argument in a case, and many of the justices declined, but he notes that one justice accepted and signed for the re-argument on the grounds that the President visited his home at night.

Cllr. Gongloe believes at that point, it was the time to stand for the independence of the Judiciary.

He explains that the Constitution gives justice and the Judiciary authority to do so, saying that laws are made to check executive actions, and if the judicial branch refuses to do so, it should not blame the other two branches. 

He says the Constitution is not self-executing; rather, it relies on the Judiciary for interpretation. 

Earlier on Monday, May 6, Ghana’s Chief Justice, Her Honor, Gertrude Sackey Torkornoo, said a lack of public confidence in the justice system has a propensity to send a loud message to hinder investors and economic stability in any country.

Chief Justice Torkornoo warned lawyers and judges in Liberia that any constitutional democracy should never countenance the erosion of public confidence in the Judiciary and the Bar.

The National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia hosts the African Regional Group Conference and Conference of the International Association of Judges (IAJ) in Monrovia.

Hosted on the theme: “The Judiciary in Contemporary Times, dispensing Justice in the New Information Age,” the conference is expected to end today, Thursday, 9 May 2024.  Several legal personalities and officials attended its opening program, including Liberia’s Vice President Jeremiah K. Koung; Chief Justice, Her Honor Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh; members of the Supreme Court Bench, Ghana’s Chief Justice, Her Honor Gertrude Sackey Torkornoo, the president and members of the Liberian National Bar Association, Liberian Female Lawyers, and members of the Diplomatic Community. Editing by Jonathan Browne

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