After many years of reported “bribery allegations” against prosecutors (government lawyers) Justice Minister and Attorney General, Cllr. Benedict F. Sannoh last week admitted that increasing complaints against the conduct of prosecutors had undermined public confidence in the justice system.
Cllr. Sannoh refused to disclose names of lawyers involved, or what kinds of complaints had been made against them, but said, “We, at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) are clear in our minds that all of our prosecutors, city solicitors, and county attorneys are not without complaints; there are lots of complaints we have received against their conduct.”
The Justice Minister’s admission raised the argument as to whether or not the prosecution office at the Ministry was entangled in the ‘corrupt practices’ allegations.
Minister Sannoh’s statement was in response to remarks made by Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor about finding a way to improve public confidence in the judiciary on the occasion of the March 2015 official opening of the Supreme Court
Minister Sannoh said an internal oversight body had been established at the Ministry to receive and investigate complaints against the conduct of county attorneys, city solicitors and even police officers.
He applauded recent actions by the Supreme Court to suspend judges and lawyers because of unethical transgressions, and noted, “We at MOJ, as part of our institutional arrangement, have set-up an internal office responsible to receive and investigate complaints against the conduct of prosecutors, because that behavior could have the tendency to undermine public confidence, especially in the justice system.”
Cllr. Sannoh also admitted that the police are among the key actors in the justice system and are responsible for most of the complaints.
“The Police are the ones that affect the lives of the citizens. Whenever we hear about frustration in the justice system, it starts from the way the police handle complaints from the people, which is causing citizens to lose confidence in the court,” he stated.
According to him, if people begin to lose confidence in the court, it could lead to “judicial tyranny.”
“When they no longer feel safe with the justice system, people begin to vent their anger against the court. Then, they’ll begin to challenge the constitutional authority of the judiciary,” he said, stressing, “they also will begin to look for other avenues for redress, which could lead to lawlessness and hinder peace and stability.”
He clarified that the fight to restore public confidence should not be left alone with the judiciary.
“It is not a fight for the judiciary alone; it is a fight for the integrity of the legal system. It is the fight for the very survival of our democracy,” he noted.
Attorney General Sannoh further pointed out, “We need prosecutors who are not learning the basics of the law, but those who have the moral character and the courage to put right where it belongs without fear or favor.”