The Government of Liberia has dramatically somersaulted on its earlier motion before Criminal Court ‘A’ for a change of place/venue in the impending murder trial of former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott and three members of her family.
The government, through the Ministry of Justice, had earlier filed a motion for a change of venue to relocate the murder trial of Cllr. Scott and others from Monrovia to a nearby county, citing fear of local prejudice due to huge public sentiment.
On Wednesday, August 2, 2023, the prosecution filed a motion for a Change of Place/Venue, stating that the named defendants, Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott, Gertrude Newton, Rebecca Youdeh Wisner and Alice Johnson; were arrested, investigated and charged by the Crime Services Department (CSD) of the Liberia National Police(LNP) for the commission of the crimes mentioned.
The State further argued that, before and during the hearing of the aforesaid Petition for the Writ of Habeas Corpus first at Criminal Court ‘C’ and also before the arrival of the defendants, for the first time, the entire courtroom was filled with spectators including supporters of the Respondents/Defendants, while others were in the courtyard discussing the merits of the case, as said acts are legally unacceptable and counter-unproductive to the conduct of an impartial trial; and that, when the defendants were expected to appear at the Monrovia City Magisterial Court at the Temple of Justice and at the Criminal Court “A” for Montserrado County, on June 21, 2023, and July 4, 2023, respectively, a large crowd of people gathered at the Courts mentioned above to witness the aforesaid proceedings and they were repeatedly discussing the merits of the case which is totally against practice and procedure.
The government also argued that when the defendants/suspects were denied the right to bail at the Monrovia City Court on June 21, 2023, and when they were committed to jail for the first time at the Monrovia Central Prison, hundreds of unidentified people stormed the aforesaid prison in an unusual and or irregular manner, a situation which is not healthy or conducive for both the within defendants and other inmates, including staff/prison guards at the aforesaid prison facility.
The prosecution further contended that, during these pre-trial periods and the three different times the defendants appeared on the grounds of the Temple of Justice, groups of people with mixed reactions, singing, chanting slogans, and dancing, with the anxiety of desperation, were often seen in the Courtyard discussing the aforesaid case and at the same time awaiting the outcomes of the proceedings, a situation which poses threat and uncertainty for all the parties in the aforesaid matter.
The government said for the consideration of the above facts and circumstances, there is a reason to believe that an impartial trial cannot be possible within this jurisdiction (Montserrado County), where the aforesaid prosecution/trial is pending.
But in a spectacular twist, the government, in another petition dated August 7, 2023, is requesting/seeking to withdraw its petition for a change of place/venue, reserving the right to refile if the need arises.
The Prosecution has given no reason yet for the rather dramatic turn-around, but it leaves many wondering as to what could have necessitated the change of gear by the government.
Lawyers representing Justice Scott and co-defendants did not immediately file a response to the government’s petition for withdrawal, but several legal pundits following the case have opined that to constitute Justification for a Change of Venue, the below listed factual issues should, among other things be present:
1. Threats to the defendants in a manner that should be addressed to avoid harm to their persons;
2. That there is a demonstration of hostile environment that should be addressed by the Court to avoid harm to Defendants; and
3. That the above listed concerns are not or may not be available to the state as it is in charge of the air space, land and water miles as well as security of the territorial enclave of the Republic.
They argued that it has not been proven that the Defendants in this case are secured by the planned Change of Venue request by the State and that the change of venue petition appeared pretentious probably to mislead Court to exercise its discretion and authority unjustly which will effectively permit the Defendants’ Constitutional Rights to a speedy and fair trial. Editing by Jonathan Browne