The president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court has publicly clarified that the court does not have jurisdiction to reverse any judgment (opinion) of the Supreme Court of any of its members states.
Justice Edward Amoako Asante’s clarification came against the backdrop of persistent threats by some senators and lawyers representing Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, but are now aggrieved, wanting to challenge the result of Ja’neh’s impeachment trial at the ECOWAS Community Court.
Justice Asante’s clarification comes following a recent visit to the country by his team of justices on a sensitization campaign on the work of the ECOWAS Court. His statement was in response to a question posed to him during a press conference as to whether his court has jurisdiction to review judgment of its members’ highest court. He replied in the negative.
“Our court is not empowered to review the judgment (opinion) of the highest court of any of our member’s states,” Justice Asante stated. “We only have the jurisdiction to examine cases involving an alleged failure by a member state to comply with community law, a dispute relating to the interpretation and application of community acts; dispute between community institutions and their officials; community liability and human rights violations.”
He revealed that up to now, 14 cases of human rights violations have been filed from Liberia to the court since its establishment in 2001.
With this clarification by Justice Asante, it clearly puts some of the senators, who opposed the idea of the amended Senate Standing Rule 63 that they argued were intended for Ja’neh’s impeachment trial in a very difficult position, because they had earlier threatened to seek further redress at the ECOWAS Court over the procedure adopted by their majority colleagues to impeach Justice Ja’neh.
Senators Armah Jallah, Daniel Naatehn, Conmany Wesseh, Oscar Cooper and Nyonblee Lawrence had threatened to take the matter before the ECOWAS Court for final settlement, although the Supreme Court had denied their argument against “the Constitutionality Amendment of the Senate Rules to provide for impeachment.”
The senators had contended that their majority colleagues’ adopted the procedure to enable them to conduct a hearing on the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh, because there was no such procedure at the Senate prior to the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh by the House of Representatives.
The majority Senators recently approved the amended Rule 63 of the Senate’s Standing Rules that created a “usable set rule” and that set a stage for the ongoing impeachment of Justice Ja’neh, and all other impeachment proceedings or trials of other persons, including the President, Vice President, Chief Justice and Judges.
The committee’s report on the amendment of rule 63 of the Senate was as a result of a Bill of impeachment sent to that august body by the House of Representative calling for the impeachment of Associate Justice Ja’neh.
According to the report, the amendment of rule 63 of the Senate rule was intended to be in conformity with Article 43 of the 1986 constitution of Liberia.
“The plenary of the Senate has received a proposal from the Senate leadership to amend Senate Standing rule 63 to bring some elements in conformity with the provision of the 1986 constitution of Liberia,” the resolution to amend rule 63 of the senate own rules stated.
In the case of Je’neh’s lawyers, they had contested almost all of the decisions of Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor, who is the presiding officer. The senators disagreed with Justice Korkpor’s handling of the impeachment trial, which outcome they could have challenged before the ECOWAS Court.
Besides, some members of Ja’neh’s legal team had openly threatened to move the matter before the ECOWAS Court if the case happened to have gone against their client.
Also, on the importance of the sensitization mission, Justice Asante said it was first held in neighboring Sierra Leone, and there was the need to extend it to Liberia.
“Moreover, with the limited patronage of the court relative to its potential, there was a recognition that the court needed to deepen its dialogue with the citizens for the effectiveness in the discharge of its mandate,” said Asante.
He noted that the integration of the outreach component to the court’s arsenal of visibility platforms was therefore intended to deepen engagement with stakeholders to reinforce citizens’ ownership.
Ja’neh is currently facing the Senate in an impeachment trial for allegedly acquiring an illegal property from J. Nyumah Constance, Jr., son of Annie Constance, among other charges.
Ja’neh has denied the charges, adding, “I have committed no wrong that warrants my impeachment from the Supreme Court’s Bench. The impeachment charges against me as found in the bill of impeachment cannot be the reason for my removal. This can be described as a sad time for our country’s democracy.”
According to him, every action that was taken by him while serving as justice in chamber at the time was done in line with the Liberian constitution.
In a bill of impeachment initially introduced by two members of the Coalition for Democratic Change, Montserrado’s fifth and eighth district representatives, Thomas Fallah and Acarous Gray, Ja’neh was accused of abusing his power to prevent a now deceased businessman, Austin Clarke, from collecting a US$1 million judgment in a case of defamation against EcoBank. The two lawmakers cited another case where they claimed Associate Justice Ja’neh used his influence “to become both a player and a referee in a land dispute in which no lawyer dared take on him, because he is an associate justice of the Supreme Court, and enjoys the luxurious trappings associated with such office, and is hiding behind his office and status to trample on the rights of innocent Liberians.”
The bill was later amended to exclude the EcoBank case, before being sent to the Senate for the impeachment trial. The charges include corruption, abuse of power, and theft of property.