Prolonged pretrial detentions, the huge backlog of court cases and other shortcomings are impeding the effective dispensing of justice in Liberia, Justice Minister Benedict Sannoh has said.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Sanniquellie, the Justice Minister pointed out that the current laws in Liberia are inadequate to address injustices and “therefore the Executive and the Judiciary branches of the government must find a solution.”
Quoting a famous American lawyer, Howard Taff, the Minister said “‘Frequently, nations are faced with situations that those who make the laws never took into consideration while formulating the laws.’ That is the situation currently facing the Liberian state,” he said.
He advised that it may be necessary for the courts to supplement the laws, statutes, and concerns because they are already inadequate and incomplete, and do not have all the details to address the challenges that confront the courts.
“We have to [find] ingenious ways to have a practical approach to the law,” he said, and suggested the plea bargaining process to reduce the backlog of cases.
“Some may say it may be an exercise of legislative power. Some may also say it is part of the exercise of sound discussion by the court, which is one of its highest functions, to be able to use the law to consolidate peace,” he added.
But he noted that one way to find a reasonable approach to solving the problem would be the adoption of what he termed as a plea bargaining process or procedure. “When I talk about the problems that we have, one thing that comes to my mind is plea bargaining,” the Minister said.
“Last week the Solicitor General reported to me that her office has obtained indictments in 150 cases for the criminal court in Monrovia. The most we can do in one term is to try maybe two or maximum three cases. So it means for those 150 cases in a year we will try no more than six to eight cases. So for 150 cases it will take the government twenty years,” he revealed.
Minister Sannoh said that there are four criminal court terms a year for the Lower Courts while the Supreme Court has only two.
He said not all cases go to trial in many countries around the world, adding, “Some cases go through a plea bargaining process that will help to reduce the backlog of cases. And so we in the Executive would like to work with the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices and the whole Judiciary to see how we can begin to look in this direction.”
Minister Sannoh congratulated Chief Justice Francis Korkpor for the idea to construct a judicial complex in Nimba County and said that “when court houses are provided they enhance access to justice. Having court houses in different parts of the country will enable people to resolve their disputes without taking the law into their hands, which is part of government’s peace consolidation strategy.”
Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh welcomed the Justice Minister’s suggestions and said that the Judiciary is always willing to work in ways that will enhance the process of dispensing justice in the country.
He further noted that the collaboration should also involve the transferring of cases from courts that have huge backlogs of cases to courts where there are fewer cases.