Just a day after Solicitor General, Cllr. Sayma Syrenius Cephus threatened to arrest Cllr. Finley Karngar, a member of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), on the premise that he could not produce a client, in person of Henry Costa, who has fled the country based on personal security concerns, the LNBA now stands ready to take up issue with the government over the statement against Karngar.
The LNBA is the umbrella and self-regulating body of all lawyers in the country. Karngar, currently a professor at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia (UL), is the lawyer who accompanied Costa during his (Costa’s) first invited appearance at the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) headquarters to explain how he obtained a liassez-passer, which was alleged to have been forged.
Shortly afterward, Cllr. Karngar assured the LIS authority that he was going to make Costa available whenever he is called upon for further investigation, which did not happen, when Costa fled to Sierra Leone.
However, in a press release on Thursday, January 16, the LNBA argued that the mere fact that the Liberian Government was in the know that Mr. Costa had fled the country and the Government said it was initiating discussions with the Government of Sierra Leone to bring Costa back to Liberia, the matter became moot, meaning that Karngar was no more responsible to produce Costa, since the government was now involved with its counterpart in Sierra Leone.
Therefore, Cllr. Karngar no longer had any obligation to ensure the appearance of Costa before any forum, neither was he responsible to answer any question regarding the whereabouts of Henry Costa.
The LNBA statement maintains the position that, being the Solicitor General of Liberia does not give Cllr. Cephus, who is also a member of the LNBA, any authority to arrest a member of the LNBA who has not committed any offense under Liberian law.
The Bar Association further says that for Cllr. Cephus to perceive, imagine, countenance or entertain the notion that he has such authority is sad, to say the least.
The LNBA cautions the Solicitor General to exercise his authority within the scope of the law and with rein statement regard to the rights of all Liberian citizens, including lawyers, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberia and the international bill of human rights.
The LNBA says it will not tolerate any violation of the rights of lawyers in the execution of the professional obligations to their clients by the Solicitor General or any official of Government and reminds Cllr. Cephus to always take cognizance of section 12.70 of the Penal Law which, they argue, prohibits the abuse of public office.
The LNBA warns that it will not hesitate to institute actions and impose appropriate sanctions on Cllr. Cephus if he were to carry out the threatened arbitrary arrest of Cllr. Finley, in order to send out a clear message that the Bar will not condone the subjection of lawyers to harassment by state actors and shall always defend lawyers in the protection of their duties.
Additionally, the LNBA says it is taken aback that the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) would assign unto itself a duty outside of its statutory mandate beyond the Alien and Nationality Law by attempting to investigate a Liberian citizen for alleged possession of false travel document.
The Bar notes that the principal function of the LIS is to enforce the Alien and Nationality Law, Title 4, Liberian Code of Laws Revised and not to conduct investigation of Liberian citizens suspected or accused of committing crime. Such a duty, according to the Bar, is strictly assigned to the Liberian National Police.
The Bar also says that it is concerned about the escalating clampdown on critics of the government, as evidenced by unfounded allegations and threatening utterances coming from highly placed individuals, which may have the net effect of silencing dissent, thereby reversing the gains made in the building of democracy in Liberia and eventually creating an environment for the resurgence of dictatorship in Liberia and civil conflict.
Once again, the LNBA calls on the Government of Liberia and all officials of government to take serious note of the fact that the legal profession is the only profession that is protected by the Constitution of Liberia.
Article 21(i) of the Constitution of Liberia, the LNBA says, provides, amongst other things, that “…no lawyer shall be… punished for providing legal services, regardless of the charges against or the guilt of his client…”
According to the Bar, the solicitor general and other overzealous officials of governments must resist the temptation to illegally amplify the scope of authority of their offices by taking actions against lawyers that bear the potential of creating a chilling effect on the practice of law and thereby make it difficult for lawyers to protect human rights in Liberia.
Finally, the LNBA assures the Government of Liberia of its willingness to cooperate and collaborate with it in protecting the rights of the people and seeking the common good. But it shall not for one minute close its eyes on the violation of the rights of its members in the performance of the professional duties to their clients and any attempt by anyone holding public office in Liberia to depart from subscribing to governance by rule of law to governance by rule of man.