Liberia’s Chief Justice, His Honor Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., says creating appeal courts in Liberia would lessen the burden on the Supreme Court, warning that there is no way the high court with just five justices can get clear the docket within in a court term time.
“There’s no way that we can get rid of the docket in term time, plus the delay – is also compounded by the problem that Justice Ja’neh also tried to mention – delay on the part of lawyers and so forth,” he said on Friday, May 6 during interactions with lawyers during the observance of Law Day held at the Banquet Hall of the Supreme Court.
Chief Justice Korkpor also noted that at the time Liberians made the law to have five justices on the Supreme Court bench, the country’s population was around 1.5m persons and had much less counties. More than that, according to him, Liberians were not so conscious of their rights at the time, compared to today when they are going to courts with every case almost ending at the Supreme Court on appeal.
He considered the decision to maintain the five members on the bench despite population increase and change in time to have a potential to create a problem. Beyond just lessening burden on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Korkpor contended that creating appeal courts at central locations of Liberia would give the people access to justice since everyone is entitled to appeal.
Right now as the judicial system works in Liberia, he said, it would be quite expensive for a party to take a case from Grand Gedeh or Nimba County on appeal to Monrovia given that all of these would add to the amount that the lawyer charges the client.
In other jurisdiction, the Chief Justice indicated, the Supreme Court is required to hear certain constitutional matters of importance or high profile cases that give directions to the nation, noting that such is not the case in the Liberian certain.
“So, if you have an appellant court arrangement in the central location as the argument has been advanced, than in that case, it will be inexpensive to the appellant who wants to come to court,” he suggested.
Additionally, he said it will be faster to dispose of cases and it give the Supreme Court the time to be quite meticulous in the cases it takes and deals with. On the question of prolonged detention of criminal defendants, he conceded that the courts take part of the blame; but noted that “largely it is prosecutors who should be responsible to put in time for the assignment of these cases” so they’ll be heard.
“So, the answer to your question- yes, we try our best. Some of the blames are on the courts; we are just overwhelmed. We will not be able to take all of the cases. But largely, it is the prosecutors who should be able to put in timely the assignment of these cases so they’ll be heard,” he said in response to a lawyer’s question.
He was emphatic that he did not think all of the blames should be put on the door steps of the judiciary because under Liberian laws, “it is the Ministry of Justice that [prays for writ] to take criminal defendants to court.”
“They are the ones that are responsible for the trial of these cases mostly. If we don’t have the witnesses in place; if they are not ready, it poses a problem to the criminal defendants,” he said.
But he, however, gave credit to current Liberian Solicitor General Madam Betty Lamin Blamo for “trying her best” on grounds that she files most of her briefs.
“You may have been in court on many occasions; we have had to fine the Ministry of Justice because they were not ready. I must admit, the present Solicitor General is trying her best. She has filed most of her briefs – not all – most of the briefs are filed,” he said.
At the level of the Supreme Court, he said, criminal cases are given first preference, concluding that “when it comes to someone lingering in jail because they didn’t file their bond or it is not a bailable offense, I think that question is more with all honesty – more to the Ministry of Justice than the court.” The keynote speaker of the Law Day program, Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh reminded that in Liberia’s history, chaos ensue whenever the judiciary [falls short] in its constitutional duty to safeguard the rule of law, protect and preserve the rights guaranteed under laws of the land.
He said people’s interactions – whether with family members, communities, business relations, political, cultural and religious bodies, are all regulated and directed by laws, suggesting further that rights and various obligations created by “our” relations are significantly determined by laws – both national and international.
“So, the real regulator of our individual, societal and international lives is nothing, but the law. So we are being ruled and regulated as such. And that is why we call our time, the time of rule of law,” he said.
By Winston W. Parley-Edited by George Barpeen