Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) president Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe says the ongoing impeachment hearing of Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh is challenging because the Supreme Court “avoided, refused, failed and neglected” to interpret Article 43 of the Constitution of Liberia regarding the procedure for impeachment.
Cllr. Gongloe’s comment is in response to Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor’s address Monday, 11 March that“the Supreme Court is going through a challenging time” due to an ongoing impeachment trial at the Liberian Senate of Justice Ja’neh, a member of the Court.
Article 43 of the Constitution as referenced by Cllr. Gongloe partly says “The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
This constitutional provision has been the basis for the argument being put forward by lawyers representing Justice Ja’neh and few Senators who made representations before the superior country seeking interpretation. The both parties argued that the “Legislature” did not prescribe any procedure for impeachment proceedings.
Associate Justice Ja’neh has been accused by lawmakers of abuse of power, using his influence as Associate Justice to secure ruling in his favor in a property case involving a private citizen, one Madam Annie Yancy Constance at the Supreme Court to take possession of a land.
One of the Justices on the Supreme Court Bench that signed the ruling which favored Justice Ja’neh in the land case, Chief Justice Korkpor is the presiding officer in the ongoing impeachment trial.
However, Cllr. Gongloe says what makes Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment more challenging is that the bill of impeachment on which he is being tried is a product of defiance by some members of the House of Representatives, of the alternative writ of prohibition issued by a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting in Chambers, acting under the authority of the law.
He indicated that the ongoing impeachment is also challenging because “the full bench of the Supreme [Court] did not consider this defiance of the presiding Justice’s order as a defiance of the entire Bench.”
Minority of the justices had dissent, but their majority colleagues including Chief Justice Korkpor determined that as at the time of the filing of the writ of prohibition, the House of Representatives had done nothing in violation of the due process right of Ja’neh to warrant the granting of the writ of prohibition.
But Cllr. Gongloe argues that the failure of any individual, group … or branch of government to honor an order of the Supreme Court “undermines the rule of law and threatens the peace, security and development of this country.”
He believes that this is where the real challenge lies.
“We must always remind ourselves, that this Court shares the blame for the more than 250,000 people that were killed in Liberia during the civil conflict,” he continues as the justices on the bench look on disturbingly.
“Had this Court [played] its part well, in the past, Liberia would not have descended into conflict. We urge the current bench not to allow itself to be similarly judged in the future,” Cllr. Gongloe adds.
Cllr. Gongloe says the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh began with the listing of actions or conducts which do not qualify as impeachable offenses. He says two of the actions listed have direct links to this Court.
In one case, Cllr. Gongloe notes that Justice Ja’neh was a party in a case decided by the Supreme Court.
In the other, he was performing a judicial duty in which his decision was subject to review by the entire Bench. “Yet, Justice Ja’neh is being subjected to a hearing for matters that both the bench and a justice in chambers are protected by the Constitution of Liberia for,” he says.
In concluding, Cllr. Gongloe warns that the proceeding is challenging because Liberia’s history will record that Chief Justice Korkpor whose bench was disrespected by some members of the House of Representatives chose to preside over an impeachment proceeding which was based on a total disregard for the authority of the Supreme Court.
Earlier, Chief Justice Korkpor says as presiding officer in Ja’neh’s impeachment trial, he sees his role as ensuring that the trial is held in keeping with the due process of law as mandated by the Constitution.
“The Liberian Senate tries the proceedings and is the sole judge of whether or not the justice has committed an impeachable offense,” he argues. Chief Justice Korkpor says he has no doubt that at the end of the trial, the Senators will “make a fair and just determination based on the findings.”
“But I have heard, and read and continue to hear and read many accusations, innuendos and speculating views about my role in the process,” he says.
Chief Justice Korkpor indicates that some of these [views] come from people who ought to know better.
But he notes that as the matter is being tried, he will for now refrain from making any substantive comment regarding his own role.
He says it is no secret that the Supreme Court is going through a challenging time that cannot be ignored, terming the ongoing impeachment trial of Justice Ja’neh as unprecedented in the history of Liberia.
The opening of the Supreme Court was unusually not crowded as vacant seats were visible. The five Justices of the Supreme Court inclusive of embattled Associate Justice Ja’neh were present and the latter gave instruction to the Marshall to maintain perfect decorum throughout the Court while the Chief Justice speaks.
The Speaker of the House Bhofal Chambers, Senate Pro-tempore Albert Chie, Minister of State Nathaniel McGill, Justice Minister Cllr. Musa Dean, River Gee Sen. Comany Wesseh and U.S. Amb. Christine Elder, among others were in attendance.
By Winston W. Parley –edited by Othello B. Garblah