Since the start of the impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh by the Senate, normal court functions have slowed down but could change quickly if the stalemate lasts beyond weeks.
As a consequence, most of the judges have not been seen in their respective courtrooms, while some have chosen to conduct court activities with lawyers in their offices as conferences last for hours.
It was not clear whether the judges’ action was in protest of Associate Justice Ja’neh, though Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor had declined to recuse himself from presiding over the matter as contested by Ja’neh’s legal team.
Judge Bioma Kontoe of Criminal Court ‘C’ at the Temple of Justice has been one of the judges to open his courtroom to handle cases, albeit at a slow pace.
Kontoe was the judge appointed by President George Weah to serve as Ad Hoc Justice when Justice Ja’neh had to recuse himself to allow the Supreme court to decide on a writ of prohibition filed by lawyers representing Ja’neh. The writ of prohibition by Ja’neh was against impeachment proceedings brought on by the House of Representatives. In that decision, Kontoe sided with Justice Joseph Nagbe and Chief Justice Korkpor, to deny Ja’neh’s legal team’s request to prevent members of the Lower House from preparing the Bill of Impeachment against their client.
“This is creating difficulties for judges to perform their functions necessary to support their disposition of litigation efforts,” a lawyer observed.
“Criminal cases in particular are likely to continue as prosecutors have the latitude of working on cases that are connected to public safety. But civil litigation could see a significant slowdown, something that has already started,” another lawyer told the Daily Observer.
A judicial actor believes that the impeachment trial is a serious challenge to the courts and criminal justice system “and those whose livelihoods depend on them, slowing some cases while throwing others into disarray.”
At the premises of the Temple of Justice on Wednesday, February 20, it was gathered that several courtrooms have remained empty for days, which have left staffers there to revert to playing computer games, while others were seen sleeping in offices.
Some were seen in smaller groups discussing the impact of the trial on their work at the judiciary.
Despite the slow process, few judges, like those presiding over criminal cases, are conducting court sessions. However, it is far from “business as usual,” one legal practitioner, on condition of anonymity, remarked.
The source claimed that he has been waiting for his day in court since 2010, and it was scheduled for Monday, February 18. But he has no knowledge when it would be rescheduled, because the Ja’neh case has continued to slow down the process of court proceedings.
Another party litigant, a female, was seen yesterday expressing frustration at the interruption and delay in handling her property case.