The President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe and Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi (a senior lawyer at the Supreme Court) have disagreed with each other in a recent statement made by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, during the opening of the March 2019 Term of the Supreme Court.
The “unprecedented” disagreement emerged when the chief justice, delivering his charge in the presence of Albert Chie, President Pro-Tempore of the Senate and House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, admitted that the ongoing impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh’s impeachment trial was challenging to his bench.
During the statement, Kokrpor said, “It was no secret that the Supreme Court is going through challenging times. We cannot ignore this.”
The Chief Justice added that the trial was unprecedented in the history of the Liberia. “To the best of my recollection, no impeachment proceedings in our nation has taken on the form of a full-blown trial before the Senate,” he confessed.
Minutes after Korkpor’s admission, the LNBA president, Cllr. Gongloe, in response to Korkpor’s charge squarely shifted the blame on the Supreme Court, which he claimed failed and neglected to interpret Article 43 of the Constitution regarding the procedure for impeachment.
Further, Gongloe said, the proceedings were challenging, because history would record that Korkpor’s bench was disrespected by the House of Representatives, despite being chosen to preside over an impeachment proceeding that was based on the total disregard of the authority of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court is the only source of hope for the survival of our democracy and the sustenance of peace and security in our country,” Gongloe said, emphasizing that the LNBA will support and cooperate with Korkpor’s bench, as long as it performs its duty as the custodian of “our democracy, peace, and security.” Gongloe believed that it was the court that was responsible for the more than, 250,000 people that were killed in the civil war.
“Had this court played its part well in the past, Liberia would not have descended into conflict. We urge the current bench not to allow it to be similarly judged in the past,” he said.
However, Cllr. Massaquoi believed that Gongloe’s expression was an attack on the integrity of the court, especially “Gongloe who is the president of the LNBA that has the power to protect and defend the integrity of the High Court.
“Gongloe’s statement is a complete embarrassment to our court because as president, he should have known that the bar has a legal obligation to provide guidance to our society,” he said.
On the issue of Article 43, Massaquoi said, Gongloe was wrong because the court made a determination on the matter, and also provided interpretation to it.
“The court has dealt with the entire legal issues raised by Ja’neh’s legal team, so nowhere would Gongloe say the court went wrong. This is an open indictment against the Supreme Court which has brought the credibility and integrity of the court to public disrepute and we, as lawyers should condemn it,” Cllr. Massaquoi noted.
Massaquoi believed that Gongloe has the right to disagree with any decision of the Supreme Court, but not question the court’s authority in the determination of cases before it.
“As a lawyer, you can disagree with the court’s decision and give a reason with the support of the law, but the impeachment trial was backed by the constitution,” Massaquoi emphasized. “There was no error on the part of the court and the chief justice, so no lawyer, including Gongloe, should question it.”
According to Massaquoi, Gongloe has no legal basis to give an instruction to the High Court, because, “the LNBA is not a parallel body to the Supreme Court, as such, it should not take instruction from the LNBA president.”