Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, who is at the verge of retiring because he has reached the age of 70, on last Friday condemned the Supreme Court’s library, which is funded by taxpayers’ money.
“I take the risk of what I am about to say: that my home library is better equipped with law books and other legal materials than the one at the Supreme Court,” Justice Banks said. He has served the Supreme Court since 2013 replacing Chief Justice, Johnny N. Lewis. Justice Banks was speaking at the induction ceremony of officials of the Association of Prosecutors of Liberia, in a conference room at the Temple of Justice.
His statement comes against the backdrop of huge financial investments made in the judiciary like the provision of attractive salaries and emoluments for judges and the construction of courthouses in some of the 15 counties by the government of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with the support of the international community. Justice Banks’ statement also comes against the backdrop of the recent United States Department of State Human Rights Report, which traced the roots of serious human rights abuses to the lack of justice, including judicial inefficiency and corruption, lengthy pretrial detention, denial of due process, among others.
Justice Banks further explained that he had spent a huge amount of money to equip his personal library, although Justice Banks who has been very outspoken as of late did not explain further what is responsible for the dilapidated condition of the Supreme Court library. Continuing, Banks said, “I’ve even spent almost all of what I have earned including salaries to get law books and other research materials for my library. These are parts of the reform and development I am talking about as lawyers. The books and materials are so much that my room cannot afford to hold them and I am constrained to put some of them on the floor.”
However Banks did not disclose just how much money he has so far spent on the library which he claims compares more favorably than that of the Supreme Court.
Banks’ criticism of the Supreme Court’s library appeared not to have all troubled the only other Supreme Court Justice at the occasion, Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, who, during his remarks lavished praises on Banks. “Everything Justice Banks had said is true because he is one of the best brains on the bench,” Ja’neh emphasized.
Ja’neh also suggested an amendment to the Constitution especially the portion that talks about the age for the justices. “Banks has reached his point to provide legal knowledge as justice, but he has to retire because of age 70,” he said.
Article 72 (b) of the 1986 Constitution states that: “The Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of the subordinate courts of record shall be retired at the age of seventy; provided, however, that a justice or judge who has attained that age may continue in office for as long as may be necessary to enable him to render judgment or perform any other judicial duty in regard to proceedings entertained by him before he retained that age.”
Admonishing the prosecutor’s leadership, Justice Banks reminded them that they should not be overwhelmed about winning criminal cases, because their role is to ensure that defendants and complainants get justice. “Your task is not easy and it does not lubricate but you have to remain on board to see to it that justice is upheld in any criminal case that you would handle for the prosecution,” Banks told the leadership.
The Prosecutors’ new president, Jerry Garlawolu, responding on behalf of his officers commended his colleagues for the confidence reposed in him, and promised to justify that confidence. “I am honored to serve alongside men and women who are committed to the oath of our respective offices: to protect and uphold the Constitution, defend it and fairly interpret it at all times in deciding cases involving the rights of all party litigants, irrespective of ethnic background, religion, gender, political affiliation or nationality,” Cllr. Garlawolu declared.
Garlawolu also promised that one of his major priorities is to build a partnership with actors in the criminal justice system. “We pledge to work with everybody including the Ministry of Justice to improve the justice system.”