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Justice on sale

The U.S. 2016Human Rights Report on Liberia has noted that the justice system here does not employ sign-language personnel to interpret for deaf persons in court, so they are left to prepare their own defense.

The document said though deaf persons’ rights were often not observed in court, they are presumed innocent when taken to court, and have right to confront and question prosecution or plaintiff witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and to appeal.

It emphasized that the law extends these rights to all defendants, but they were not being observed and rarely enforced, stressing that the Constitution of Liberia provides for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and corruption, while jurors were also subject to influence and corrupt practices that undermine their neutrality.

The States Department report said the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) here has failed to prosecute a prison superintendent linked to sale of prisoners’ food at the Monrovia Central Prison. Instead of prosecution, the reports narrates that the Ministry only dismissed and charged the prison superintendent in question, but declined to prosecute him.

It revealed that the government has also failed to make internal reports and investigations into allegations of inhumane conditions in prisons, adding that Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation staffs complained promptly a July investigation of congestion in the prison system, and that the Ministry of Justice Internal Audit Division had revealed corruption in the distribution of food.

The report further observed that in previous years, NGOs reported severe food shortages, but the Justice Ministry’s records showed sufficient food purchased and sent to prison facilities across the country, detailing that in one instance, prison officials sold food taken from a BCR warehouse to inmates through a prison canteen.

The document maintained that the government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local human rights groups, international NGOs, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, diplomatic personnel, and media, which was extended to detainees at police headquarters and prisoners in the Monrovia Central Prison Compound.

However, the report said the Corrections System of Liberia continued to develop its capacity to address problems which have witnessed pretrial detainees exceeding the required maximum length of sentence that could be imposed for an alleged crime.

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It identified some of the problems facing the Correction System as shortage of trained prosecutors and public defenders, poor court administration and file management as well as inadequate police investigation and evidence collection, among others.

The document further notes that traditional leaders were encouraged to defer to police investigators and prosecutors in cases involving murder, rape, and human trafficking, as well as some civil cases that could be resolved in either formal or traditional systems, and added that magistrate sitting program suffered from poor coordination among judges, prosecutors, defense counsels, and corrections personnel.

Meanwhile, report identified deficient and inappropriate involvement of extrajudicial actors, including lack of logistical support and docket management, among others as key factors affecting the Justice System of Liberia.

By Emmanuel Mondaye-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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