Chief Justice Korkpor Stifles Free Expression?

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To the shock and amazement of the audience, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor angrily insisted that Gongloe cut short his remarks at the podium and return to his seat.

— Interrupts LNBA President Gongloe’s remarks in unprecedented fashion

Rough edges allegedly subsisting between Chief Justice Francis Korkpor Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) President, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, arising from Gongloe’s critical stance against the Supreme Court for its handling of Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh’s impeachment and removal office, took a sharp twist on Monday with Chief Justice Korkpor abruptly halting the full delivery of Gongloe’s remarks at an official program marking the seating of newly appointed Associate Justice Yussif Kaba on the Bench of the Supreme Court.

In his remarks at the ceremony in the presence of members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of the United Nations, as well as judges and lawyers, Gongloe maintained that the removal of Ja’neh was “unconstitutional.”

But to the shock and amazement of the audience, Justice Korkpor angrily insisted that Gongloe cut short his remarks at the podium and return to his seat. And this was when Gongloe was mid-way through his written remarks. “If you don’t have anything to say, then you must sit down,” Korkpor was heard telling Gongloe, adding, “I maintain that you sit down.”

Korkpor continued: “If you are called to speak, you have to talk what is at hand, when the bar is requested to address any function of the courts, you can voice out your concern. Your remarks have to stay within the limit of the program or what is being said, but to take the opportunity and say something that is not the issue is wrong, and so we are not going to allow that from you anymore,” Korkpor said as Gongloe reluctantly left the podium.

Further, Korkpor told the startled audience that Gongloe, who is the president of the bar “is becoming provocative, and if you continue with this attitude, I will ask you not to speak at any functions of the judiciary.

“If you don’t have anything to say during this joyous occasion you just have to sit down and behave; that you have nothing to say at all as president of the bar,” Korkpor declared in a very stern tone.

In Gongloe’s statement that was cut short, he emphasized that the official position of the LNBA has been and still is that the removal of Ja’neh was unconstitutional.

“The LNBA maintains that the bill of impeachment was a product of the violation of a court order, that the impeachment was done without a procedure prescribed by the legislature as required by Article 43 of the Constitution,” Gongloe noted, adding, “and that by the removal of Ja’neh for performing his legal duty, the Senate violated Article 73 also of the constitution.”

According to Gongloe, the removal of Ja’neh for performing a legal duty creates a precedent that has the potential of making other judges, especially of subordinate courts to be afraid of freely preforming their legal duties when it comes to cases in which the interests of government or powerful persons or entities are involved, which he stressed “defeats the purpose for which courts exist in our system of government”.

Cllr. Gongloe: “I cannot [celebrate], because another former student of mine, Justice Ja’neh was removed unconstitutionally. Officially, as president of the LNBA, I cannot celebrate because to do so will be contrary to the official position of the bar.”
Given reasons for his presence at the program Gongloe indicated, “our presence here is not an approval of the reason for which we were cited, for the constitution does not require such.” He added, “We are here because a failure of a lawyer to appear and perform any service required by the Court is contemptuous”.

Personally, the LNBA president noted that he should be in what he called a joyous and celebratory mood owing to the fact that his former law student, Yussif Kaba had been elevated to the Bench of the Supreme Court. “I should be in a joyous mood and celebrating for the elevation of Justice Kaba, as my former student during his undergraduate studies at the University of Liberia (UL) in the 1980s.”

However, Gongloe, declared he could not celebrate because another former law student of his, former Justice Kabineh Ja’neh had been removed unconstitutionally and, because that action ran contrary to the position of the LNBA, he thus found himself constrained to refrain from celebrating what should have otherwise been a very happy occasion for him.

“I cannot because another former student of mine, Justice Ja’neh was removed unconstitutionally. Officially, as president of the LNBA, I cannot celebrate because to do so will be contrary to the official position of the bar.”

Meanwhile several lawyers spoken to by this newspaper (names withheld), have slammed Chief Justice Korkpor for what they call his arbitrary and heavy-handed attitude which, according to them, borders on gross disrespect to the President of the LNBA and a virtual attempt to stifle free expression, which is in violation of the Constitution.

It can be recalled that recently at the close of a five-day capacity building workshop of Judicial reporters at the Temple of Justice, Chief Justice Korkpor lashed out at the media accusing journalists of engaging in unbalanced reporting which according to him can create negative public perceptions of Judges which causes the public to lose confidence in the country’s justice system. Justice Korkpor’s remarks were reported in the April 22, 2019 edition of the Daily Observer under the headline “Judges Are Targets of Negative Media Reporting”.

But the Daily Observer, not taking Justice Korkpor’s accusations against the media lightly, was constrained to remind the Chief Justice in its April 23, 2019 editorial that “the chronic lack of access by most Liberians to unadulterated justice coupled with blatant corruption in the judiciary are the chief culprits serving to undermine public confidence in the judiciary and not the perceived negative press reportage”.

The editorial further noted that the Judiciary must do much more to inspire public trust and confidence which can be done only “if those in leadership of the Judiciary can remain above partisan and base pecuniary interests”. Now with this latest and unprecedented gag action by the Chief Justice, the public is left wondering whether the nation’s judiciary under the leadership of Chief Justice Kporkpor can be counted on to defend the civil liberties of the people, particularly, the freedom of expression so jealously guarded and protected under the Constitution of Liberia as provided for in Article 15 which reads as follows:

Article 15
a) Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government save during an emergency declared in accordance with this Constitution.

b) The right encompasses the right to hold opinions without interference and the right to knowledge. It includes freedom of speech and of the press, academic freedom to receive and impart knowledge and information and the right of libraries to make such knowledge available. It includes non-interference with the use of the mail, telephone and telegraph. It likewise includes the right to remain silent.

c) In pursuance of this right, there shall be no limitation on the public right to be informed about the government and its functionaries.

d)  Access to state owned media shall not be denied because of any disagreement with or dislike of the ideas express. Denial of such access may be challenged in a court of competent jurisdiction.

e)  This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights of privacy and publicity or in the commercial aspect of expression in deception, false advertising and copyright infringement.

12 COMMENTS

  1. That man(Francis S.Korkpor, Sr.) is a disgrace to the Legal profession in Liberia, he blatantly violated the Liberian Constitution!

  2. Chief Justice Korkpor DID NOT VIOLATE THE CONSTITUTION. Laws are either IMPLIED, ENUMERATED, OR SILENT! It is implied in the constitution that unruly attitude or arbitrary disparagement on the part of any verbal or written speech IS PROHIBITED. And Gongloe should be aware of that, but he thought he would have been given a free pass to flout article 15 of the Liberian Constitution.

  3. Wow ! Chief Justice of Liberia’s Supreme Court ” Stifles Free Expression ? The Supreme Court under Mr. Korkpor could not uphold Article 73 of the country’s constitution that no ruling made by the Court shall be reviewed by the other two branches of the country’s government. Is Mr. Korkpor the person to be trusted to uphold the constitution as it relates to free speech or expression ?

    • In my opinion, I believe Justice Korkpor is a fair jurist and one of the best Chief Justices of our time. He is not deterred by any outside influence including the government. Now, with regards to him interrupting Mr. Gongloe…it might have been rude I would say. But Mr. Gongloe should pick his battles carefully I would say. How is this different from a Justice on the Supreme Court interjecting a lawyer during a proceeding and telling the lawyer that he’s out of bounds? I don’t think that’s suppression of free speech. Is it?

  4. Other lawyers also taught Counselor Gongloe at Louis Grimes, so it was unwise of him to turn the ceremony into a spectacle: Chief Justice Korpkor acted appropriately.

    Members of the Intelligentsia must project responsible behavior were high school and university students they influence should become responsible citizens. If the Human Right lawyer and Bar Association President, whom I consider a brother, wants to be a politician, let him run for a legislative seat. But he embarrasses some of us who admire his advocacy when he sometimes carries on like a publicity-seeking jerk.

    • This Sylvester Baghdad Moses is not only useless to anything good in Liberia, but dangerous as well. Where in any civilized place have you heard or seen a speaker being stopped from speaking because some stupid so-called chief justice doesn’t like what is being said? Only in Liberia! And when people say the country is therefore teetering on the brink of crisis on account of these bizarre behaviors, you say in fact those raising the alarm are the “rabble rousers?” What kind of jacked up thinking is that? Some of us have sized you up long time ago, since you became one of the paid agent provocateurs for this stupid government. It is self-centered hustlers like you Baghdad Moses, that are stoking the fire simmering under the stupid dispensation unfolding in Liberia. But we shall see how it will all end for you and cabal. Darn hustlers.

  5. It is unthinkable that the president of the LBA would go on rabbit trail at a program where diplomats, other foreign and Liberian Government officials were invited for an honoring ceremony. Would you cry for your dead grandmother when others come to celebrate the birth of your child, turning the celebration into mourning? There is time for everything under heaven (Eccl 3.1). Think about that!

  6. The truth can hurt…Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, please continue to speak truth to power…there is nowhere in the constitution limiting where to speak the truth to power….we have had speakers at national occasions speak out about corruption in the presence of the President…was those speakers told they were being unruly….the removal of Justice Ja’neh violated a very key article of the constitution, Article 73..a justice can not be impeachment for his opinion and Justice Korkpor oversaw and presided over an illegal proceedings… Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe had every right to speak about the unconstitutionality of that proceedings in the place where it should be told…thanks Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, you are on the right side of history..

  7. Flomo Smith alias journalist, alias “right-to-be-anonymous”, etc., somebody should make you open a newspaper in Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Sierra Leone or Ghana just to see whether the rabble-rousing partisan pamphleteering that passes for journalism will be tolerated. Kofi Woods says “Liberia teeters at the brink of conflict”, the irony is that you guys can’t even fathom your contribution to the situation. Oh well, you’re the untouchables, not accountable to even your audience: Bravo!

    • Of course speaking the truth is so-called “rabble-rousing” we should just keep quiet in the face of corruption and attack on the constitution…

  8. where there is no vision, the people perish. The President and his staff have no credentials for their assigned positions. The president and staff have no clue on how to be Just leaders for Liberia. There is no rule of law / justice.
    Chief Justice Korkpor is not up to the task, but to protect his job / pay check at Liberia and its people expense. If there is no Justice, there is no prosperous Liberia. What the hell must Justice Korkpor tempered with Freedom of Speech when it is the people’s right. Nothing wrong with “Liberia” the country except the leaderships. President Weah and staff do not have Liberia at heart, but to enrich themselves. It is sad, pathetic, no empathy and cruel to see how the masses are suffering. It is my hope that lesson is learned from electing weah and the next time vote with your heads, not impulse / how popular is the candidate; eventhough, he or she does not have any vision and plan to lead a Liberia.
    Madam sarleaf: the Black Widow & Mrs.Wicked brought this destruction on Liberia and it’s my hope if there is hell she is one of the candidates of the domain (hell)

  9. I often wonder why some Liberians will shower praises and validate bad behaviors of those arrogantly violate the Liberian Constitution, without regard for the rule of Law, the intent and spirit of freedom of speech as enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia. The behavior of Chief Justice Francis Korpor, ordering the President of the Liberian Bar Association to sit down and denied his right to speak further, was wronged and reprehensible and must be challenged.

    Regardless of Justice Korpor’s indifference to Cllr. Gongoloe’s remarks, the Chief Justice’s behavior was unprofessional, unlawful and clearly establish him as a dictator who see himself above the law. Mr. Korpor should be removed from the Supreme Court for lack of judicial tolerant and temperament. The Liberian Bar Association should demand that unless Mr. Korpor is removed, no member of the Bar should practice before the Supreme Court. Francis Korpor is not above the law and should be held accountable for his actions.

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