Judges Dupe Magistrates?

A view shows the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, Liberia on November 3, 2017. (REUTERS).

From the beginning, judges and magistrates of the judicial system had one voice in pressuring the Government of Liberia not to tamper with their salaries and benefits, citing the Liberian Constitution as a backer for their argument. 

With the hope of being united in fostering their agenda, the story has now come to twist against the magistrates who are now crying wolf for allegedly being duped in the petition sent to the Supreme Court concerning the judges and magistrates’ discontent about the “Salary Harmonization.” The judges are now complaining of being sidelined in the pursuit of just pay and benefits from the Government of Liberia.

The magistrates’ complaint comes three months after they joined hands with Judges to file a lawsuit against the George Weah administration before the full bench of the Supreme Court to compel the government to reimburse monies deducted from their salaries under the controversial “Salary Harmonization” exercise.

But shockingly, to the magistrates, their issues of deducted salaries and benefits were omitted from the final petition submitted to the Chief Justice despite signing the earlier version for submission to the government for readdress.

The Daily Observer has established that after magistrates and judges jointly filed a lawsuit through a legal representation of counselors J. Johnny Momoh and M. Wilkins Wright in association with Wright and associates law firm on grounds that the salary harmonization exercise of judges and Magistrates is a total violation of article 72 of the 1986 constitution, they (Magistrates) were surprised to discover that after a meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Senate Pro Tempore and the Finance Minister, the Magistrates’ names were deleted in the document presented to the government.

According to our source, the petition was mistakenly placed in the group chat by one of the judges, and the magistrates’ names were nowhere found, something that raised a huge debate. The source said magistrates were badly affected in the harmonization process as compared to judges.

“I do not know why they only talk about themselves because after the harmonization the judges’ salaries are even more encouraging than magistrates. Imagine those magistrates that were receiving US$750 are now receiving US$350 without benefit,” the source said. "So tell me, how can you fight corruption in the judicial system of Liberia if people are not paid according to the job they do?” the sources wondered."

The judges’ petition presented to the Chief Justice,  indicates that before the harmonization exercise, judges' salaries were L$22,950, taxable, allowance US$5,000.00, non-taxable,  and 350 gallons of gasoline. After the harmonization, the salary of taxable US$5,000.000 remained for the judges and the main Liberian dollar salary was abolished.  Gasoline was reduced to 135 gallons for the judges while magistrates were left in limbo.

 The petition said  article 72 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides that “(a) The Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia and all other judges shall receive such salary, allowances and benefits as shall be established by law.

Such salaries shall be subject to taxes as defined by law, provided that they shall not otherwise be diminished. Allowances and benefits paid to justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia and judges of subordinate courts may by law be increased but may not be diminished except under a national program enacted by the Legislature; nor shall such allowances and benefits be subject to taxes.”

The judges' petition quoting Section 13.4 (2) (1) of the New Judiciary law provides that the salaries of justices, judges and stipendiary magistrates shall be fixed by statute and shall be provided by annual budgetary appropriation.

The salary to be provided to the Chief Justice of the Supreme shall be the same as that of the Vice President. Further, Section 13.4 (2) (2) of the New Judiciary Law provides that compensation of the justices, judges or stipendiary magistrates shall not be reduced during the tenure at which he was appointed.

“That assuming without admitting that the categorization of Judges did not undermine judicial independence and unconstitutional, then and in that case, Petitioners and all other judicial officers similarly situated would be entitled to the same salary compensation paid by the Respondent to ministers of the Executive Branch of Government and others, as provided for in Part III, Section 1 (c) of the National Remunerations Standardization Act of 2019,” the petition said.

According to count nine of the petition, “Independence as envisaged by Article 72 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia and a judiciary free from control by the Executive and Legislature, it is essential that judicial officials be adequately compensated as it is done in the United States of America and the Western World.

In this way, claims will be decided by judges free from potential domination by the other branches of the Government of Liberia. Petitioners submit that judicial independence protects all and inures to the benefit of everyone as it is designed to protect the system of justice and the rule of law, thereby maintaining public trust and confidence in the courts.

To achieve the goal of judicial independence as envisaged by the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, judicial officials must be adequately compensated.”