Augustus D. Jones, a rights activist and the executive director of a group under the banner, “Citizens Action for Better Liberia (CABEL),” says the absence of claims court in the justice system has given rise to rampant corruption and abuse of power by government officials.
According to Jones, there are two groups of people in our society; the followers, (ordinary citizens) and the leaders, (government officials). “When an ordinary citizen did wrong, commit any civil offense or wrongdoing, they are taken to the circuit court, but when the leaders did wrong, it is only at the ‘Claims Court’ they can be prosecuted but it is nowhere around.”
Jones is relying on Article 26 of the 1986 Constitution which states that, “Where any person or any association alleges that any of the rights granted under this Constitution or any legislation or directives are constitutionally contravened, that person or association may invoke the privilege and benefit of court direction, order or writ, including a judgment of unconstitutionality; and anyone injured by an act of the Government or any person acting under its authority, whether in property, contract, tort or otherwise, shall have the right to bring suit for appropriate redress. All such suits brought against the Government shall originate in a Claims Court; appeals from judgment of the Claims Court shall lie directly to the Supreme Court.”
Appearing on the Truth Breakfast Show, Truth FM 96.1, the activist said no official of government can be prosecuted outside the claims court, and that is why they carry out corrupt practices and if an ordinary citizen wants to challenge them, they ask the person to go to the court.
He disclosed that these ministers and other officials of government have their lawyers who have informed them that they can only be prosecuted in the claims court; so they are not afriad to carry out any act that will harm the lives of the ordinary citizens.
“That’s why corruption is so rampant. The officials of government know that you cannot do anything to them if you take them to court because their lawyers have informed them about it,” Jones said.
“Absence of the claims court gives room for abuses in our society. Those who act under the authority of the government go with impunity. This is the problem of our society.” Jones added.
According to him, if a court does not have jurisdiction over a person and the subject matter, the judgment is not binding. “You can sue a minister in a civil court. You can go to debt court, labor court you can take them there. The judge will not tell you I don’t have authority over this case. He will sit and hear the case and even render judgment, but the minister’s lawyer is with the knowledge and understanding that the court has no jurisdiction over his client”.
When asked why will a judge sit over a case knowing fully well that he does not have jurisdiction over the case, Jones said “The judge/court cannot do for you what you ought to do for yourself. The judge will take the case and go through it, but at any point the defense lawyer can raise jurisdiction issues and it will be at that point the judge will throw the case outside.”
He noted that lawyers nowadays are looking for potential clients. “When you are appointed today as a minister or director, you will see troops of lawyers coming to you. They are the ones that will strengthen and guide you. All he wants to do is, when you chop (steal), you give his share. They will defend you.”
Jones noted that most lawyers are substandard. Most of them do not go to the Law School properly that is to say they get busy with other jobs and give less time to Law School as compared to those ones that spend hours reading.
“There are a lot of lawyers who do not know that Claims Court is in the Constitution. They don’t read their constitution, they don’t sit to read the law. They just go through the law school and come out anyhow and way, and they call themselves lawyers who will misrepresent you instead of representing you,” said Jones.
Adding, he said “Had we had Claims Court and a judgment is rendered from there, as a lawyer, you can take an appeal to the supreme court.”
Jones, who began his campaign in 2015, vowed to pressurize the Weah-led administration to establish the Claims Court. “Since April 2013, the bill was approved by the House of Representatives and forwarded to the Senate for concordance. The body is yet to look into it.”
Jones is blaming the government because they have failed to compell all learning institutions to teach the Constitution as prescribed in Article 10.