While the Criminal Conveyance of Land Act languishes at the National Legislature, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court yesterday disclosed that the court’s judgment on land cases are resisted, and those who are not parties to the matter most often put up violent resistance and prevent the lawful execution of mandates.
Expressing his disappointment during his address at the opening of the March 2017 Term of the Supreme Court, with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in attendance, the Chief Justice Francis Korkpor said, “This cannot continue and if this is to continue with impunity, the effect would be to have illegal property claimants against the rightful owners and the law. No civilized and lawful society can condone such acts.”
Justice Korkpor said under the law, title to land can only be conveyed by the lawful owner and it also forbids selling land to more than one person or entity.
“These clear and unambiguous provisions of our law notwithstanding, criminal conveyance of land is at alarming proportions in our society today, such that if decisive actions are not taken now, this may undermine peace and national security,” he said.
The Legislature is yet to pass the law.
“The right to own property is sacrosanct, it is a right equated by the Liberian Constitution with the right to life,” the Supreme Court boss noted.
Article 20 (a) of the 1986 Constitution provides that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any right except the outcome of a hearing consistent with the provisions laid down in this constitution and in accordance with due process.”
However, Justice Korkpor indicated that based on the law, “this court has always taken steps to protect matters with the outmost care, giving all party litigants every opportunity to appear and defend their property rights.”
He maintained that questions of property, especially real property, and human life are to be handled with every care.
“If you deprive a man of his life, you deprive him of further existence on earth; if you deprive a man of his real property unjustifiably, you deprive him of the basic means of existence which stands to be more difficult to obtain in the years ahead,” he indicated.
“Our warning requires our judges to afford all parties who stand to lose life and property every chance and patience to appear and to defend their cause accorded them by law, and under no circumstances, should it be maintained otherwise.”
The justice emphasized that “reports from the Civil Law Court indicate that writs of injunction intended to keep property cases in status quo are often flagrantly violated and that in some cases where a land case has been concluded by the Supreme Court the executions are vehemently resisted by the other parties.”
He did not say the continuous delay of the passage of the land act was responsible for people disrespecting the Supreme Court’s rulings. He however noted that efforts by the courts to protect property rights are being seriously undermined and rendered futile by the illegal sale and occupation of land by unscrupulous citizens.
“In a number of cases, it has resulted into violence and even death,” he explained.
“The illegal sale and occupation of private lands in Montserrado County abound and are causing untold problems for our trial judges as they attempt to uphold and ensure the rights of lawful land owners by repossessing them,” the Chief Justice said.