Liberia: “Reduction in Judges Salaries Unconstitutional”

Chief Justice, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh

.... Says Chief Justice Youh

Chief Justice, Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, has described the reduction in the salaries and benefits of justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts as a violation of the constitution of Liberia. 

Yuoh, while delivering her debut speech as chief justice at the annual convention of the Liberia National Bar Association, said, it is common knowledge that the remuneration and standardization law has impacted the judiciary in a negative manner.

The Chief Justice said Article 72[a] of the 1986 Constitution clearly states that “…allowances and benefits paid to Justices of Supreme Court and 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 taxation.”

This provision of the law, the Chief Justice said, is meant to ensure that Justices and judges are adequately compensated for their services, given the Constitution’s provision against the group of employees from partaking in any activities by themselves or with others for economic gains or benefits, as is allowed the members of the other two branches of government.

She however called on her fellow justices and judges not to be deterred, admonishing them to continue to honorably serve the people of Liberia by dispensing justice freely, fairly, and independently.

You admonished magistrates to utilize the medium available to them in channeling their grievances and other concerns, rather than individually seeking an audience with her for said purposes.

 The channels, she said, include the office of the Court Administrator through the submission of quarterly reports; and Circuit Judge, who has direct supervision of the respective magisterial judications or through a professional association, such as the National trial Judges Association. 

The Chief Justice then cautioned all judicial actors, including lawyers and judges, to make it an obligation to stick to the text of the law. She stressed that, as judicial actors, they bear legal and moral obligation to ensure that application of the law is done in keeping with the spirit and intent of the framers of the law.

“We must all times be reminded that changes in the law have relevant implications for our legal system,” she said.

On the Supreme Court’s approach to the theme of the Bar Convention, she vowed that while it remains the exclusive prerogative of the Legislature to pass laws, the Supreme Court will approach cases with caution, in-depth deliberation, and research, so that the Judiciary, which has the authority to say what the law is, can apply the legislation to cases that come before the Court so as to bring harmony between what the law says and how it is applied.

Serving as Keynote Speaker, Dr. Rowland Cole, Chief Technical Advisor for the Rule of Law Program, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), called on the National Legislature to urgently pass into law the Legal Aid Act.

Cole said when passed, the act will provide a comprehensive legal architecture to deliver legal aid for indigent Liberians, through the establishment of an independent legal aid board and a legal fund.

 He reiterated that the provision of legal aid is critical in a country that recognizes that all persons are equal before the law.

Delivering the opening address, LNBA President, Cllr. Sylvester Rennie informed the public that the Legal Aid clinics set up by the Bar in five counties, namely Bomi, Bong, Grand Bassa, Margibi, and Montserrado, remain functional to date and are fully supported by the Bar since support from the USAID dried up in October 2020.

He also expressed the Bar’s concern about the plight of the prosecutors relative to their strike action and said the Bar is engaging stakeholders for an amicable resolution. 

President Rennie also informed the convention that the Bar remains engaged with the National Elections Commission, challenging the NEC to ensure that it supervises the conduct of free, fair, and transparent elections in 2023.

The Bar, he noted, also remains engaged with the Civil Society Council of Liberia for the establishment of the War and Economic Crimes Court in Liberia.

The National Convention of the Bar Association is an annual activity and brings together all judicial actors including lawyers, and judges who gather and deliberate on legal issues in the country.

During this year’s convention, several important topics were discussed including contemporary issues in the development of law. The gathering also reviewed past opinions of the Supreme Court of Liberia.