-Judge Roosevelt Willie declares
Jude Roosevelt Willie of Criminal Court ‘A’ at the Temple of Justice on Friday described as human rights violation a decision by the Ministry of Justice that halted indefinitely the prosecution of defendant Hawa Bangura, a Sierra Leonean who had appeared before the court and pleaded not guilty to the crime of human trafficking.
Defendant Bangura was indicted in 2017, by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for the crime of human trafficking as a result of a complaint two other Sierra Leoneans filed before the court, accusing her of attempting to sell the children in Liberia.
From the onset of the case, MoJ had complained to the court that without their knowledge, the ministries of Labor, Gender Development and Social Protection as well as the Liberia National Police (LNP) had released their two key witnesses. According to the MoJ, the Labor and Gender Ministires as well as the Liberia National Police had attributed reasons for their action to what they described as the 2017 election euphoria.
It was based on that accusation Judge Willie later held Labor, Gender and LNP in contempt of court.
Currently, Defendant Bangura is detained at the Monrovia Central Prison after the ministry denied her access to a bail as provided for under the law on grounds that she could likely escape from the country.
But at Friday’s deliberation in a contempt hearing, Willie said, “defendant Bangura is still in jail and that is a violation of her rights, and while this court would exercise justice with mercy, it would not allow those public entities to go with impunity,” he added, “their action is not in good faith.”
After that, the criminal court judge fined the ministries of Labor and Gender US$100 each, and the Inspector General of Police Patrick Sudue, the same amount.
“The ministries that are involved including their heads and all others that are holding superior authority are fined US$100 each to be paid into the Judiciary’s account within 72 hours, by Tuesday, July 3.” the criminal court judge declared.
With defendant Bangura’s rights being denied, Judge Willie said, Article 21 (f) of the Constitution of Liberia and some international conventions that Liberia has ratified provide speedy trial for people accused of engaging in human trafficking.
He made specific reference to Article 21 (f) of the 1986 Constitution and Article 14 and 19 of the international convention on civil and political, although he did not elaborate.
“These legal instruments call for speedy trail for each and everyone accused of a crime, and defendant Bangura was accused and has been in detention for almost a year without getting her day in court,” Judge Willie emphasized.
The criminal court judge recalled that human trafficking is a global issue of concern and every country is expected to enact laws that would ban the practice of human trafficking against which Liberia on July 5, 2000, enacted laws to ban.
“So as to adhere to the fight against human trafficking, then, it is expected that those accused of human trafficking must be tried speedily and results therefrom be known domestically and internationally,” Judge Willie maintained.
Initially, Judge Willie explained that when defendant Bangura pleaded not guilty to her alleged human trafficking crime, the court ordered the MOJ to produce evidence beyond all reasonable doubts to prove the guilt of Bangura.
But Bangura’s lawyer then rejected that the contention and argued that it was intended to keep her in perpetual detention.
“The state’s request was made in bad faith and also her continued detention was a violation of her rights under the constitution and international protocol to which Liberia has registered and signed,” the defense lawyer then claimed.