The opening of the judiciary retreat in Gbarnga, Bong County that was expected to discuss ways to help strengthen the rule of law through enhancing judicial performance was characterized by harsh exchanges between the Minister of Justice and an executive of the Carter Center on Thursday.
The three-day gathering brought together justices of the Supreme Court, judges of circuit and specialized courts, magistrates and human rights groups, including the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
The situation erupted when Justice Minister Fredrick Cherue was responding to a statement made by Thomas Doe Nah, Carter Center’s Head for Access and Information Program, who charged that most of those languishing in prisons were not given due process.
“I visited the Gbarnga Central Prison and as I interacted with inmates there it was very interesting that all of them were not provided justice and that most of them were innocent of the crimes of which they were there for,” Nah claimed.
“When I listened to their stories I believed that some of them were never given justice, and how do we expect them to trust our justice system? Therefore, as you discuss, you must understand that the process of building the judiciary is very critical to the peace and security of the nation.”
Nah also claimed that some inmates, though he did not mention their names, were in jail because of political interference.
“They are in jail because some ‘big men’ want them to be there. These are some of the issues that must be dealt with so that people can have confidence and trust in the judiciary,” he said.
In his reaction Justice Minister Cherue, however, claimed that most of Nah’s reports were based on what he considered as “hearsay.”
“They (Carter Center) were not in court, but only heard what the prisoners told them; immediately they prepared their negative report about our justice system without getting to the bottom of the matter,” Minister Cherue stated.
“If human rights groups were to follow the legal process that eventually sent the accused to prison they would have firsthand information on the matter.
“The human rights groups go to the various prisons and only talk to inmates and conclude that they did not get justice.
“Since they want to go to our prisons to access information there, it would be necessary for them to advocate for funding to hire independent lawyers to go to court and defend those they are claiming were never given fair and transparent justice.”
Cherue said he was shocked that an adjudicated case would be termed unjust by “people coming from outside the country. We wonder by what determination they reached their conclusion.”
“They were not in court. Lawyers represented the accused in court; and how then did they know that the convicts were not given justice?” Minister Cherue wondered. “I am not criticizing them, we are not vexed about their criticism, but we want them to follow the cases in court to the end.”