Liberia: Judge Wollor Cries for Justice

The embattled Judge Sikajipo Wollor

... “I still can't understand why there is a delay in forwarding the complaint letter to me,” the judge wondered.

Judge Sikajipo Wollor has accused Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh of depriving him of justice as well as violating his constitutional right to due process.

The Chief Justice’s alleged action, according to Wollor, violates article 20 of the Liberian Constitution, which says: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law.”

“It is now two weeks and the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC) is yet to serve a copy of the complaint letter for my unethical investigation,” Wollor said. “I'm waiting for my letter, so that my team of lawyers can take a careful look at it, to adequately represent me, during the trial, with the JIC.

“I still can't understand why there is a delay in forwarding the complaint letter to me,” the judge wondered.

Wollor’s claim of the Chief Justice violating the constitutional right to due process, comes a few weeks after she had committed to “uphold the constitutional principles of due process guaranteed to all citizens and residents alike.”

“My colleagues and I are in full agreement and are mindful that this Supreme Court is the last place of hope; and as such we are resolved to reposition our courts to a judicial stature that will not only be highly respected but revered by all despite the changes of our modern society,” Yuoh said, while delivering her charge at the opening of the Supreme Court's October Term. 

“Paramount to all this, is our resolve to not only hear numerous cases but to concurrently render opinions thereon timely and expeditiously.  As we set this premise, we expect that the trial judges will naturally follow our example.”

Also Wollor's claim against Youh comes as he battles his suspension as Resident judge of Criminal Court ‘D’. He was suspended by the Chief Justice on grounds that a complaint of unethical probe was filed concerning his office. 

But 14 days later, Wollor is claiming that the Judiciary Inquiry Commission (JIC), which is headed by an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, is yet to serve him with a copy of the letter, which serves as the basis of his suspension.

The JIC is the arm of the Supreme Court with the responsibility to receive, hear and investigate unethical complaints against judges.  Wollor was suspended on October 13 and, by now, Chief Justice Yuoh should have forwarded the complaint letter, which was relied on for Wollor’s suspension by the JIC, for a full investigation.

Currently, Wollor is not assigned to preside over any court in the country for this November 2022, Term of Court, due to the suspension. The suspension order against Wollor was announced in a press release, signed by the spokesman of the Judiciary, Attorney Darryl Ambrose Nmah. 

“The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Her Honor Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, has with immediate effect suspended the assignment of His Honor Sikajipo A. Wollor from presiding over the 5th Judicial Circuit of Grand Cape Mount County,” said the release.

According to the release, the decision of the Chief Justice is predicated upon a complaint of alleged ethical misconduct of the judge, “which is of grave magnitude”.

The release, however, did not mention the name of the individual who filed the complaint against Wollor before the Supreme Court.  According to the complaint procedure, if the Chief Justice receives a complaint against a presiding judge and finds any trace of unethical breach, the Justice should immediately forward the complaint to the JIC.

The JIC, upon receipt of the complaint, has ten days to forward it to the accused. And for a judge to be suspended or removed, the JIC must make a copy of the charge available and deliver it personally.  Or  serve the judge the charges by mail, publication, or “otherwise as the JIC may direct; and in either event, he must be allowed an opportunity of being heard on his defense.”

Meanwhile, Wollor noted as a result of not receiving a written complaint from the JIC,  he  has  no knowledge of violating any rules of the judicial canons to warrant his indefinite suspension by Yuoh.

"Why will Yuoh choose to not follow the procedure outlined by the JIC in the alleged investigation of judges of unethical breached?" Wollor wondered. “The action implored by Yuoh is strange.”

Wollor noted that it is also a huge blow to judicial independence and undermines the legitimacy of the 1986 Constitution, and the Judicial Canons governing the legal profession.

“Under our law and canons, judges may be subject to suspension or removal only for reasons of proven incapacity or behavior that renders them unfit to discharge their duties, and only in accordance with an appropriate procedure before an independent body,” Wollor stressed.  “But I was suspended by the Chief Justice who single-handedly presided over the proceedings that led to her action, even without any regard to the judicial canons and the constitution.” 

The Judicial Canons are intended to establish standards for the ethical conduct of judges. They are rules for all judges to uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the Judiciary, and also avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety; moreover, judges must perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.