A Supreme Court Justice has attributed reasons behind the dismal failure of the government to successfully prosecute high profile corruption cases stems in part from the make-up of the criminal procedure law.
Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks spoke against the backdrop of hardship engendered by corruption and mismanagement of he nation’s resources.
Banks believes that for the prosecution to be successful, there should be a vigorous reform of certain portions of the law.
Chapter 24.2 sub-title Right of Appeal By Defendant of the Criminal Procedure Law enacted on January 1, 1969, under the caption “Appeal From the Circuit Courts” provides that an appeal may be taken by the defendant as of right from (a) A final judgment of conviction; or (b) A sentence on the ground that it is illegal or excessive.
Chapter 24.3 also under sub-title “Right of Appeal by the Republic” says that an appeal may be taken as of right by the Republic from (a) an order granting a motion by the defendant to dismiss the indictment, or an order granting a motion for judgment of acquittal.
The magnitude and gravity of reported corruption in the country led former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to establish several anti-graft institutions. They included the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission, the General Auditing Commission and Public Procurement Concession Commission.
Those efforts did little or nothing to curb the plague of corruption.
But Justice Banks believes that the law is counter-productive in the fight against corruption, as it mostly protects people accused of looting public funds.
“Most times when the corrupt officials that are covered under the appeal provision can use some of the monies to bribe the jury, and despite strong evidence to convict that person, the jury, because of the bribe brings down a not-guilty verdict, which makes it difficult for the state to appeal before the Supreme Court for review,” Justice Banks said.
“If only the defendant is given the right to appeal to the Supreme Court is that justice?” Banks wondered. Why is it defined in the Criminal Code that way? This is a major flaw in the Code and there is an urgent need for reform to succeed in our fight against corruption.”
He explained that a case in which the state charges a person with stealing US$100,000, and because the law provides that the prosecutors (state lawyers) cannot appeal to the Supreme Court against a jury’s verdict, that accused person can easily pay each of the jurors US$2,000 and with the clear evidence produced by the state, and because of the bribe, the jury sets the accused free.
“What do you expect the prosecutors to do, because they cannot appeal against the decision of the Supreme Court. How do you think the Supreme Court can review that decision, when the state cannot appeal to it? And it now remains with the lower courts and the perpetrators of massive fraud and looting are acquitted on legal technicalities, because the prosecutors could not appeal to the verdict,” Banks noted.
He said, “if the matter were to come on appeal to the Supreme Court, the court would review its merit or demerit and sometimes reverse the decision of the lower court’s judgment where the matter is rescheduled for hearing and; if the person losses the case after paying the bribe that would have served as a deterrence, which is not the case.”
Besides, Justice Banks indicated, “If all or a majority of these cases are successfully reviewed by the Supreme Court, then restitution will come to the Liberian people whose salaries, pension, gratuities, healthcare system, education, roads, pipe borne water, electricity, general infrastructure and long-term investments were stolen.”
Therefore, he said, corruption is a gross violation of citizens’ human rights and needs to be treated as such; the judicial system deserves a complete overhaul and stringent enactment of effective laws and the reinvestment of proceeds recovered from corrupt individuals in the development of much-needed infrastructure to boost the nation’s economy.