Liberia: Chief Justice Humiliates Bailiffs at Civil Law Court Opening

Montserrado County Civil Law Court Bailiffs at the ceremony.

— Subjects them to public test to ascertain their ‘competence’

Bailiffs at the Montserrado County Civil Law Court, who attended the March term of court on Monday, might now be scratching their heads and lamenting why they ever decided to attend the ceremony.

Neatly dressed and in a vigilant mood as the program proceeded in the morning hours, the enforcement officers, two males and two females, had no clue what awaited them — not until Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh took the podium to deliver a speech.

In what many termed as total humiliation, Yuoh called the officers and subjected them to a public test after learning that most of them were incompetent and therefore responsible for the slow pace at which cases are heard at the court.

The jam-packed court, which had in attendance judges, lawyers and judicial workers, as well as other guests, went into total silence as the bailiffs walked over to the Chief Justice as they were grilled.

It all started after the Resident Judge Kennedy Peabody complained to Yuoh, and blamed most of the delays in the hearing and determination of cases on the bailiffs who, he said, “don't know know how to write their returns after serving a complaint on the defendant.”

In court procedure, returns are written documents prepared by bailiffs informing the judge that the defendant had either received or refused to accept the complaint against him or her. 

In an immediate response to Peabody complaint, Yuoh ordered nine of the bailiffs attending the opening to rise up to their feet.

When the bailiffs stood up, the Chief Justice picked two males and two females (names withheld) from among them to write official returns to her, using her name  as a judge of the court, while her audience waited in total confusion and disbelief.

After over 30 minutes of waiting, two of the four bailiffs presented their written returns to Yuoh, who later took some time and read them aloud, commenting on several mistakes and misspelled words.

She later asked one of the male bailiffs to publicly spell the word ‘defendant’, which he misspelled as he omitted the (a) and replaced it with an (e).

“Is this how you have been spelling defendant? You are just like your other bailiffs.

“It is ‘defendant’ is spelled defendent. Are these the people who have passed through the court?” the enraged Chief Justice asked. “The reason why some of you people have worked in the judiciary without knowing anything is because you are recommended by the very same judges and magistrates. But they are the ones that will take all of the penalties for any misspelling of legal words.”

According to Yuoh, during her recent tour of courtrooms across the country, she encountered a bailiff who claimed to have been with the judiciary for 15 years and could not read and write a return.

This is why, Yuoh believes, that bailiff had been telling the judge that they cannot find a defendant, to serve them with the complaint filed against them.

“If you write on your return that you cannot find a defendant for a month, it means that something is wrong with you, and we will take it as you are unqualified, to serve as a bailiff.”

“I am not talking about qualifications. I am not talking about degree. I am talking about how a bailiff can manage the court,” Yuoh declared.