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House trashes S/Court’s prohibition

The plenary of the House of Representatives has trashed a prohibition from the Supreme Court of Liberia against ongoing proceeding by group of lawmakers to impeach three Associate Justices of the highest court.

Members of the House of Representatives argue that the Supreme Court’s prohibition lacks constitutional backing, describing the move as mere legal bluff. The Supreme Court mandated the House of Representatives and other Legislative Standing Committees on Judiciary “to stay all further proceedings in the matter of the petition for impeachment” being advanced against Justices Kabineh M. Ja’neh, Phillip A.Z. Banks, III, and Jamesetta Howard – Wolokolie.

Impeachment proceedings are being worked out here at the House of Representatives following protest by Senators Dan Marais, Peter Coleman, James Tornola, Numene Bartekwa and Rep. George Mulbah against a recent Supreme Court’s decision on the controversial Code of Conduct.

After ruling in March this year that the Code of Conduct was legal and binding for all its intent and purpose, the Court however, ruled in July and overturned the disbarment of the Vice Standard Bearer of the opposition Liberty Party, Harrison Karnwea from participating in the October elections by the National Elections Commission or NEC.

The lawmakers cite the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, specifically Articles 3, 43 and 71, respectively as their reliance in rejecting the prohibition. Article 3 of the Constitution states, “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of government is Republican with three separate, but coordinate branches: the Legislative, the Executive and Judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution; and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.”

Article 43 states, “The power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate. When the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgments in such cases shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold public office in the Republic; but the party may be tried at law for the same offense. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings, which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”

Additionally, Article 71 points out: The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during good behavior. They may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”

Meanwhile, the House is expected to vote on the impeachment proceedings next week Tuesday, August 15, to decide the fate of the three Associate Justices. It is not clear what next course of action the Supreme Court may take in the face of what could amount to an open challenge from members of the House.

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By E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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