Liberia: Judge Dahn Calls for Speedy Trial of Pre-trial Detainees

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

.... Speaking at the Court in Sanniquellie, the presiding Judge stressed that the absence of lawyers and party litigants from court affects the liberty and rights of pre-trial detainees.

The Resident Judge of the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, Nimba County is calling for “speedy and timely” trials for pre-trial detainees in the county.

Dahn noted that as per Article 18.2 of the Criminal Procedures Law of Liberia, detention [without trial] of a person is a total violation of their fundamental human rights. On his desk, lies 165 cases on the trial docket, comprising 74 criminal cases and 91 civil cases this term of court. 

Speaking at the Court in Sanniquellie, the presiding Judge stressed that the absence of lawyers and party litigants from the court affects the liberty and rights of pre-trial detainees.

In additional reference to Article 18.2 of the Criminal Procedures Law, Dahn noted that the failure of the prosecution to proactively discharge their duties must not be a reason why pre-trial detainees should be kept in prison for an unnecessarily long period of time.

He added that the court has the power to move through public defense lawyers to release pre-trial detainees. Judge Dahn disclosed that as it stands, the only prison facility in the county is overcrowded due to the “failure” of the Prosecution Team to speed up making assignments of cases on the court’s docket.

Meanwhile, the circuit judge has challenged Prosecutors to work within the timeframe allotted to them by the law.

Dahn, who is on record for always alarming the failure or delay of the prosecution team assigned at the 8th Judicial Circuit Court, called on them to speed up in making assignments in cases and always be present in court whenever cases are scheduled in order to reduce the number of cases on the court’s docket.

This, according to him, will reduce the overcrowding of the county’s only prison facility and, at the same time, make citizens trust the justice system of the country. He noted that many citizens tend not to have confidence in the court system nowadays, not because there are not competent people in the court to serve them justice, but due to the delay on the part of those responsible to adjudicate cases at the court.

Commenting on cases at the top of the court’s docket, Dahn named murder, rape, aggravated assault, and action of debts, as the leading cases that the 8th Judicial Circuit Court has received in recent times.

Meanwhile, responding to Dahn’s Charge, Nimba County Attorney, Cllr. John D. Miah, attributed the “slow progress” of the Prosecution team to a lack of funding and logistics, including vehicles, as major factors impeding the functions of that body.

He noted that the situation is affecting not only prosecutors in Nimba but prosecution teams assigned at various courts across the country. Miah acknowledged that the Ministry of Justice has placed several persons in pre-trial detention without speedy trial as required by law and pointed out that as an arm of government, the Justice Ministry does not take pleasure in detaining citizens without speedy trial.

He stated that the situation is based on the aforementioned constraints and called on the government and its partners to consider increasing support for them as prosecutors.

Meanwhile,  Dahn has also reminded stipendiary magistrates to desist from impeding the function of each other. 

Speaking recently at the opening of the November term of court, Dahn told the magistrate that the court is not anyone's property, as such, it should not be used to sidelined someone. 

“Don’t sideline your associates in the performance of their duties, the court is not for you,” he said. “The Court is not your family property to sit on.” 

In April this year, retired Chief Justice Francis Korkpor subjected the staff at the Ganta Magisterial Court to a probe due to a disagreement among themselves, including the stipendiary magistrate, the associates, and all judicial workers.