Scores of pre-trial detainees are languishing in prisons across the country with most of them never afforded the opportunity to have their day in court. In fact, some of them suffer permanent physical impairments in prison such as blindness, severe ailment and eventually death without being heard as required by law.
Pre-trial detention seems to have become a common practice in the Liberian jurisprudence. Explanations provided by judicial authorities range from overcrowdings of court dockets, complainants’ failure to appear in court, to alleged procrastination by both prosecuting and defense lawyers, among others.
People facing such predicament are usually charged with Unbailable offenses, such as rape, armed robbery and murder. A member of the Supreme Court bench, Associate Justice Kabinah Ja’neh says tagging some offenses as Unbailable tends to subject an accused to legislated imposed punishment long before trial and conviction.
And this is exactly what is unfolding in Liberia. Hundreds of accused or perhaps thousands, are languishing behind bars under imposed punishment before they can appear in the docket to explain their sides.
We agreed with Justice Ja’neh that such judicial system has the tendency to breed disgruntlement and disappointment especially, amongst the largely affected poor and marginalized or disadvantaged segment of the population towards the rule of law, which generally should keep society in check.
Delivering the keynote address Monday, 7 May at the formal opening of the Young Political Leadership School here, he stressed that fair, impartial, and accessible justice system, and a representative government, are recognized by universally responsible institutions as key elements of the rule of law.
Fundamentally, we believe there is need for serious reform in our justice system so that application of the law would not be seen as disadvantaging one party over the other, in this case, the accused.
Recently, it was reported that one pre-trial detainee went completely blind after spending over a year at the Monrovia Central Prison, awaiting his day in court, while another got seriously ill and subsequently died with a very few privileged granted opportunity to seek medical attention abroad on bail.
This is not the kind of justice system the Liberian people deserve. And this is not the system that should be imposed on them either. As Justice Ja’neh concluded in his address, a governance system based on the rule of law, a legal system which ensures that all is regulated by the law of the land and are treated alike, is the foundation for attracting international private and bilateral investment in any country with Liberia being no exception.