State lawyers on Friday challenged the authority of the Commercial Court, advising it not to hear or decide on a US$10.7 million vehicles’ debt lawsuit brought against the government by Prestige and Alliance Motor Corporation, owned by a Lebanese National, George Haddad.
In counter argument, Cllr. Augustine Fayiah, Assistant Minister for Litigation at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), admitted that government owes the company. However, he argued that the transaction occurred prior to the establishment of the Commercial Court, which he believes, by law, lacks jurisdiction to hear and decide matters that occurred prior to its coming into existence.
The Sherman and Sherman Law Firm, representing the company, filed an “Action of Debt” against the government for allegedly crediting a fleet of vehicles from 2003 to 2006, totaling over US$10.7 million, which the government has failed to settle.
Besides the cars, the lawyers further alleged that the company provided spare parts during the transaction with the government, and subsequently asked the court to give their client justice.
But Cllr. Fayiah said, “The Commercial Court, which wants to assume jurisdiction over this debt case, was established in 2010, and was not intended to hear and preside over matters that occurred before its existence as to do so would be a contravention of the Constitution of Liberia.”
He backed his argument by quoting Article 21 (c) of the 1986 Constitution, which says, the Act of Legislation that established the Commercial Court, particularly Article Six, gives said court the power to hear and decide all commercial matters, including the one that is before it.
Cllr. Fayiah agreed that the statute that created the court was enacted into law in 2010, and therefore it cannot be retroactive to affect or hear and preside over a matter between the parties that predated the court.
“We have realized through recent research that the Commercial Court, which wants to hear this action of debt, lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim made by the company because a court which lacks jurisdiction to entertain such matter is legally nullified,” Fayiah said.
He did not mention any court that he believes has the jurisdiction over the matter, but after listening attentively to two arguments, Judge Morgan, who presides over the three-judge panel court, only managed to instruct the lawyers to prepare a five-page, of what she considered as, “proposed ruling,” with an advise that “this document should be submitted to the court by Tuesday, November 24.”