But Judiciary claims ‘immunity’
Rep. Numene Bartekwa, chairman of the majority bloc of the House of Representatives, has revealed that the Bill of Impeachment for the three Associate Justices of the Supreme Court is on the “round table” because of the intervention of religious, traditional and other civil society groups.
Speaking on a popular radio talk show, as well as in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer yesterday, Bartekwa said the Ministry of Justice, the Liberia Council of Churches (LCC), the National Traditional Council of Liberia (NTCL) and some Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are in a round table discussion with the House of Representatives to halt the impeachment proceedings.
A round table discussion is a form of dialogue involving concerned parties and others seeking the resolution of a pertinent issue of national interest.
Rep. Bartekwa is one of the five lawmakers who petitioned the House of Representatives to impeach Justices Kabineh Ja’neh, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie, and Philip A. Z. Banks, III, growing out of their unanimous opinion that allowed Jeremiah Sulunteh and Harrison Karnwea to contest the October 10 presidential and legislative elections.
Other petitioners included Sen. Dan Morais, Maryland County; Sen. Peter Coleman, Grand Kru; Sen. Jim Tornola, Margibi; and Rep. George S. Mulbah, Bong County District # 3.
“There are discussions ongoing. There are interventions from the religious, traditional and other civil society groups. We, the leaders of the land, are in discussions with them. But, in spite of the discussions we are still holding up to the petition of impeachment and we hope that the conclusion of the round table will end on a good note. Let me say, as lawmakers and leaders of the land, the elections will not be undermined by our actions. It’s our hope that the elections will be fair, peaceful and transparent,” Rep. Bartekwa said.
The round table discussion against the impeachment crisis was prompted when President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf expressed grave concern, pointing out that the process in the House of Representatives “tends to undermine the peace, threatens the election process currently underway, and creates confusion and chaos in Liberia’s fledgling democracy.” In an Executive Mansion statement, the President argued that the action of some members of the House of Representatives to initiate the impeachment proceeding against the majority members of the Supreme Court “is in violation of Article 73 of the Constitution of Liberia.”
Justices Did Not Appear
However, the Justices did not respond yesterday to the invitation by the House Judiciary Committee to answer to the petition of impeachment as authorized by a majority vote of the Plenary of the House of Representatives. According to the recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Atty. Worlea Dunah on August 3, the absence of the Justices could be considered as “default” and the Bill of Impeachment would be drafted and submitted to the Liberian Senate for appropriate legal action. The Liberian Constitution provides that the power to prepare a Bill of Impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested in the Liberian Senate (Article 43).
Justices, Judicial Officials “Immune”
In the corridors of the Supreme Court, counselors-at-law are arguing that Justices and other judicial officials are “immune” from impeachment and prosecution, according to Article 73 of the 1986 Constitution, which states, “No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace.
Statements made and acts done by such officials in the course of judicial proceedings shall be privileged, and, subject to the above qualification, no such statement made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial or proceeding.”