After years of legal tussles over the ownership of the E. J. Roye building, Civil Law Court ‘A’ in Monrovia yesterday ruled in favor of the government, declaring that it is the legitimate owner of the property. Judge Boima Kontoe in his ruling said his court has no jurisdiction to determine the People’s Redemption Council’s (PRC) usage of Decree#11 under Article 97 of the 1986 Constitution, and refused to hear a request filed by the erstwhile grand old True Whig Party (TWP) to declare its right as owner of the building. “Since the argument surrounds the interpretation of Article 97 and other constitutional provisions over which this court has no jurisdiction,” Kontoe declared, “the TWP’s petition for declaratory judgment is hereby denied.” Kontoe upheld the state’s appeal asking him not to determine the matter.
The article provides that “No executive, legislative, judicial or administrative action taken by the PRC or by any persons, whether military or civilian in the name of that Council, pursuant to any of its decrees, shall be questioned in any proceedings whatsoever; and accordingly, it shall not be lawful for any court or other tribunal to make any order or grant any remedy or relief in respect or any such act.” Part (B) of that article also states: “No court or other tribunal shall entertain any action whatsoever instituted against the Government of Liberia, whether before or after the coming into force of this Constitution or against any person or persons who assisted in any manner whatsoever in bringing about the change of government on the April 12, 1980, in respect of any act or commission relating to or consequent upon.”
Until the 1980 coup that toppled the government of President William R. Tolbert, the E. J. Roye Building was the headquarters of the TWP, then the ruling party. The Tolbert government was overthrown by a military junta headed by President Samuel Doe on April 12, 1980.
Before Kontoe’s ruling, the government argued that the building which Reginald Goodridge, who is the national chairman of the TWP, sought to have its right declared, was confiscated by the PRC government under Decree#11, in 1980, following the overthrow of the then constituted government of Tolbert.
Government lawyers also argued that by virtue of the confiscation, the ownership power of the building should immediately be turned over to the government. “Article 97 expressly legitimatized Decree#11 promulgated by the PRC government and mandated that no executive, legislative and judicial or administrative actions be taken against those involved into the coup,” they argued. The article, they added, was intended to give amnesty to the coup makers from any prosecution and acknowledged that the court has jurisdiction over matters related to the declaratory judgment, but it lacks the power to question the decree or to give orders or grant any remedy or relief in respect to what the TWP wants the court to do. “If the PRC’s decree is wrong and other acts committed by the military junta were wrong as claimed by Goodridge, it remains a historical wrong which the court is powerless to correct,” they said.
According to state lawyers, a referendum on the constitution was held on July 3, 1984 and subsequently approved by 98.6 percent of voters with a turnout of 82 percent. “The people of Liberia consciously decided to keep moving and to put the past behind them, and said that the action taken by the military junta pursuant to any of its decree shall not be questioned in any courts or proceedings of whatsoever name within the country,” state lawyers said, adding, “the people’s decision is mandatory and not discretion; and we must abide by it.”
In counter argument, Goodridge’s lawyer said the article does not cover real property like the E. J. Roye building. “It goes without saying that the confiscation of real property by the junta on April 12, 1980, was transitory in possession and did not convey any title deed to a third party, which is why in May 1984, through an Executive Order, all properties were returned to their original owners,” the lawyer contended. He argued that if the building was confiscated and remained the property of the government, “What was the legal basis for them to request for the original warranty deed from the TWP in the so-called MOU agreement?”