-Counselor Tiawan Gongloe Observes
Former Solicitor General Counselor Tiawan Saye Gongloe has alleged that “too much bribery” has reduced Liberian judges and magistrates to mere commodities who can be purchased by the highest bidder.
Speaking at the opening of the 7th National Trial Judges Conference on Friday, February 2, at the Temple of Justice, in Monrovia, he said reports of judges and magistrates taking bribes to rule in favor of party litigants have eroded public confidence in the court to deliver fair and transparent justice.
He called on judges and magistrates to be be mindful not to be carried away by money, because people who have encouraged them to take bribes will not keep their interactions a secret.
Under the theme, “The Role of Judges in the Sustenance of Peace in Liberia,” Cllr. Gongloe noted that a judge or magistrate who is considered by lawyers and party-litigants as a person without integrity cannot sustain the peace.
“Whenever you as a judge or magistrate take a bribe, whatever little respect the bribe giver had for you vanished immediately,” Gongloe emphasized.
“Even if a Liberian man or woman were to say, ‘don’t worry about that judge; I will take care of him,’ the notion that is immediately carried is that he knows how to influence the judge, most often with money or valuables.”
Giving an example, Gongloe said, “If a client were to tell a lawyer, ‘I met the judge and he said you should go for the assignment,’ then the question that will come to mind is why a client should find it easier to get a judge to agree to issue an assignment in a case than a lawyer?”
“This kind of conduct of a judge erodes public confidence in the justice system,” he added.
Providing a solution to the bribery of judges and magistrates, Gongloe said, “The way to avoid that is to improve on calendaring so that on the basis of first come first serve, without the request of a lawyer or a client, cases can be automatically assigned by clerks of courts, in order to reduce the frequency of ex-party contact with a judge.”
According to Gongloe, “there is no small bribe because a bribe of one million dollars and a bribe of one dollar have the same grade under our penal law. Bribery is a second-degree felony, irrespective of the amount received or the value of the thing received.”
The former Solicitor General did not elaborate whether a judge or a magistrate has ever been convicted of a second-degree felony on the crime of bribery, but recommended to the conference to come up with a resolution on how to deal with the suspicion of bribery that hangs over judges and magistrates.
“To deal with the situation,” Gongloe explained, “is for judges and magistrates to immediately hold in criminal contempt any lawyer or party-litigant who bribes or attempts to bribe them. Bribery is contemptuous because it tends to undermine the integrity of a judge.”
For Judge Roosevelt Z. Willie of Criminal Court ‘A,’ who is also president of the association, he warned his colleagues to desist from anything negative that would undermine the integrity of the judiciary.