Judges in Liberia say the country’s courts “are placed under pressure because of lack of resources,” and that they are “strained and stressed” due to lack of facilities and manpower.
A former Trial Judges Association President, Judge James Jones, told reporters during a training session on Tuesday, 3 May that in Liberia, judges have to listen to cases, read the cases, listen to motions, rule on motions, conduct trials and research the laws before writing and delivering rulings.
Unlike the practice here, he says in most developed countries, some of those aspects of work performed by judges are given to other persons to do, emphasizing: “So you have research officer just as competent as a judge.”
“For example in Liberia we don’t have – the judges work without research assistants. Very, very strange thing. There is a lady – a lady judge that came to aid and facilitate some workshop sometimes ago. And when she heard that we judges work without research assistants, she yelled. You know it was strange to her. She said that she could never serve as a judge without a research assistant.”
“The facts of the matter is the courts are strained and stressed – lack of facilities, lack of manpower,” Judge Jones said, before making another observation that one serious problem in Liberia is the absence of intermediary courts of appeals, compelling every case to end up at the Supreme Court, no matter how small it may be.
He therefore stressed a need for the Constitution of Liberia to be amended in order to limit appeals to the Supreme Court to important cases like treason, murder and a million dollar case, while minor cases like L$15,000 case, be dealt with finally at intermediary courts of appeals.
Earlier, the President of the Trial Judges Association, Judge Roosevelt Z. Willie, who served as facilitator, told journalists that the training focused on the new jury law and its effective implementation; the role of judges, the rule of law – the foundational pillar of human rights, judgment writing and the fight against corruption.
He said the essence of the exercise was to familiarize judges with the new techniques of judgment writing, while on the other hand, teaching them how to implement the new jury law so that it does not put financial burden on the judiciary.
Judge Willie said the new jury law specifically speaks about not using a particular person more than one term; but given the financial situation and distances people have to cover “especially in the rural areas,” courts may not have the number of persons needed in terms of implementing the new jury law.
“So we are constrained at times to use maybe a particular juror two times in a case. So … because you don’t have the number of personnel in terms of serving the jury term. And also because the more persons you take, the more money or the more financial burden you put on the judiciary,” he noted.
The training being implemented by the James A.A. Pierre Judicial Institute in Sinkor with support from USAID, brought together about 15 judges and magistrates from across Liberia to participate in the exercise.
Two law experts with years of teaching experience on legal matters and legal writing – Professor Laurel Currie Oates and Associate Professor Mimi Samuel facilitated the training exercise.
The trainers said they were focused on empowering the judges in writing judgments that can be read by variety of people and to have the appeal court, party litigants and others understand courts’ judgments.Editing by Jonathan Browne