A senior lawyer of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) over the weekend expressed dissimilar views to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s proposed bill for the establishment of a court dedicated to tackling corruption.
In her State of the Nation address a week ago, President Sirleaf said that before she leaves office, her administration would ensure the establishment of a specialized court dedicated to cases of corruption and financial crimes and propose a corruption offenses bill designating corruption and specific acts of corruption as criminal offenses under Liberia’s Penal Code. She said she intends to craft other corruption-related bills, among them, one on illicit enrichment, to strengthen and extend the powers of security institutions to investigate financial crimes. Other bills she intends to propose are a bill to protect whistle-blowers and witnesses as well as a bill to revise the Liberia Criminal Procedure Laws removing the statute of limitation on corruption and other financial crimes.
Cllr. Sayma Syrenious Cephus says, however, that although the president’s proposal was laudable, it revealed the lack of experience and expertise of judges to man such a court, even if the lawmakers were to unanimously agree to pass the bill before the expiration of Madam Sirleaf’s tenure.
Cllr. Cephus claimed that “The lack of trained judges with a background in handling criminal cases have equally been affecting the judiciary,” though he did not give names.
“We first need to know whether we have judges who have vast experience to handle cases brought before a corruption court, which we do not have to my knowledge,” Cllr. Cephus acknowledged.
Another concern, he noted, is whether the country, in the midst of economic hardship, has the financial capacity to operate the court.
“In our country where there are not sufficient incentives to entice people to work as judges, I believe it is not time for us to think about setting up a new court purposely for corruption matters,” Cllr. Cephas cautioned.
According to him, if the court were to be established, it would not hear corruption cases that took place prior to its coming into existence.
The law provides that corruption matters be prosecuted in the magisterial court, which is the court of first instance.
Unless the value of the subject matter is exceptionally high or the prosecution is of the view that the likely sentence is beyond the jurisdiction of a magistrate, most criminal trials are conducted in the magistrate courts.
Besides, the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides for the right to a fair trial of an accused person, which includes the right to public trial before a court of competent jurisdiction within a reasonable time, after having been charged.
“There are, however, a lot of corruption suspects who were charged with offences by the magisterial court, yet such cases are not coming to any finality,” a judicial expert explained to the Daily Observer.