Justice Banks Retires at 70

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Retired Associated Justice Philip A/Z. Banks.

The Supreme Court of Liberia yesterday announced the retirement of Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks in keeping with the constitution provision, having served eight years on the bench.

Article 72(b) of the 1986 Constitution provides that, “the Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts of record shall be retired at the age of 70; provided, however, that a justice or judge who has attained that age may continue in office for as long as may be necessary to enable him to render judgment or perform any other judicial duty in regard to proceedings entertained by him before he attained that age.”

Banks, the oldest member of the court who turned 70 yesterday, according to Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, is required to continue in office until the end of June 2018.

“This will enable Banks to perform his judicial responsibility assigned him by the Constitution prior to reaching his 70th birthday,” Justice Korkpor emphasized.

Korkpor said Banks rendered extraordinary and distinguished service to his country and the judiciary and called his career “an inspiring example for all Liberians.

“His accomplishments on the bench will long be remembered. We wish him the best in his retirement,” Korkpor said.

Banks served on the Law Reform Commission as its chairman from 2008 to 2010, before former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf appointed him in 2010 to the Supreme Court bench, which was subsequently confirmed by the Senate the same year.

His retirement leaves President George Weah with the challenge to pick a competent legal practitioner as his successor and who is well schooled in the law, to help maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Justice Banks may be best remembered for his role in siding with four of the five justices to rule in favor of the contentious 2014 National Code of Conduct (CoC) Act, which caused five out of 103 members of the Legislature to submit a petition for his impeachment, along with two other Justices of the Supreme Court. They included Kabineh Ja’neh and Jamesetta Howard-Wolokolie.

The lawmakers included Senators Dan Morais (NPP, Maryland County), Peter Coleman (CDC, Grand Kru County) Jim Tornola (PUP, Margibi County), Representatives Numene Bartekwa (MPC, Grand Kru County) and George Mulbah (NPP, Bong County).

In their petition, the lawmakers accused the Justices of the Supreme Court of violating their oaths of office by engaging in misconduct, gross breach of duty and exhibiting a clear inability to perform the functions of their offices as Associate Justices.

The lawmakers said the Code of Conduct sought and did effectively usurp the powers and authority of the Legislature to make law and thereby made ineffective and virtually null and void the Code of Conduct.

“NEC made a serious error in that the rejection was single-handedly signed by the Chairman instead of everyone on the board of commissioners.”

Banks emphasized that the court acknowledged that Karnwea violated Section 5.1 of the contentious Code of Conduct (CoC) by holding a press conference on March 14 while serving as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Agency (FDA). Karnwea had announced his resignation from the ruling party and officially joined the Liberty Party.

In the view of the Justices, he substantially complied with the CoC when he resigned after the Supreme Court upheld the CoC as law in the Selena Mappy-Polson Vs. The Government of Liberia’s case.

EDUCATION

Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree (Cum Laude), in Sociology and Economics from the University of Liberia, in 1971 and enrolled into the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia where he earned his LLB degree (Magnum Cum Laude), General Law (with emphasis on business, criminal and constitutional related areas), in 1974.

Justice Banks thereafter gained admission into the Yale Law School, United States, where he obtained his LLM degree in Corporations and International Law, graduating with honors in 1976. In 1978, he obtained a certificate in International Humanitarian Law and subsequently was a Visiting Scholar at the Yale Law School, the United States of America, in 1990.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Make no mistake about that, Chief Justice Korkpor: Philip A.Z. Banks may have only “rendered extraordinary and distinguished service” to those who biding he did, or his clients, AND NOT his country and the judiciary!

    Philip Banks´ career is was, and shall always be a disappointing, and disgustingly dampening example in the annals or archives of the Liberian judiciary. AND YOU KNOW IT!

    That is, Philip Banks´ career CAN NEVER EVER be an “inspiring example” for any truly law abiding, well-meaning, and morally strong Liberian; but absolutely for crooks like himself!

    And these crooks include ALL OF YOU on the Supreme Court´s Bench who brought such disgraceful and disappointing disrepute to the Supreme Court, especially in:

    (1) the case where Kabineh Janeh served as both plaintiff and judge against a poor 90 year old lady, and also

    (2) in the CODE OF CONDUCT case in which the Legislature almost impeached the very Philip Banks and his two fellow cohorts – James-Etta Wolokolie, and the very Kabineh Janeh FOR THEIR INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE BAD BEHAVIOR AND MISCONDUCT.

  2. As a former Law School professor of his colleagues, Justice Banks had disproportionate influence over them in a Supreme Court where through debates they were expected to weigh the merits of cases brought before them. Such advantage under a steadier Johnny Lewis – despite being Chief Justice – wasn’t manipulated to the mortification of many citizens, or reputation of our highest court.

    That said, Philip Banks isn’t only brilliant, but demonstrated uncommon valor as Chairman of the Joint Security Commission before and after the NPFL juggernaut of October 1992 codenamed “Operation Octopus”. He and Interim President Sawyer weren’t only in control, it was their finest hour. For that achievement alone, I’m hoping that he will use his beautiful mind in the pursuit of reconciliation and peace in Liberia. After all, he has another decade to actively contribute elesewhere.

  3. Phillip Banks was embroilef in conflict of interest in a case that will haunt him for the rest of his career. Banks’ refusal to recuse himself in the Chris Toe versus FPA/Rodney Sieh case for which Sieh was sentenced to jail in 2013 for life and his newspaper business shut down has tarnished whstever reputation Banks may have built up as a “good lawyer.” I don’t have to go to law school to sort this out.

    Plaintiff Chris Toe, former Agriculture Minister, according to a GAC audit, could not account for millions of dollars meant to provide safe drinking water after a batch of army worms destoryed food crops and contaminated drinking water in Nimba and Bong Counties.

    Mind you, Toe’s lawyer Emmanuel James is married to Phillip Banks’ sister, and James and Banks were “Partners” in the law firm hired by Toe. Banks did not recuse himself from the case on the Supreme Court.

    I had written extensively on this miscarriage of justice for a man bejng praised as the “Perry Mason” of Liberian lawyers. Let pepo hear in their ears ya.

    Jerry Wehtee Wion, Retired Liberian Journalist and Political Commentator, Washington, DC, USA.

  4. Perhaps now he can give us back our laws that he had copyrighted for himself. It is funny that when they are leaving power they all have a lot to say. But we all know that the biggest obstacle to true justice is the judicial system. The grease each other palms.

  5. Happy retirement Justice Banks!

    I hope the University of Liberia can utilize your legal expertise as an adjunct professor of Law to help mold the minds of our young law students. I know lately, there have been many controversial judicial interpretations of the law in the Supreme Court: some based on liberal philosophies of law; others based on moderate interpretation, and others based on conservative views. However, it is impossible to please everyone.

    For so long, it puzzles me as to why the drafters of Liberia’s Constitution saw it necessary to inscribe in Article 72 (b) of the 1986 Constitution law that makes 70 years of age the retirement age for Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts of record?

    Was 70 years of age for retirement of Supreme Court Justices based on the life expectancy rate in Liberia at that time during the drafting of Liberia’s Constitution, or was 70 years for retirement based on the Justices’ diminishing mental capacity to function in a highly judicially challenging mental position?

    Modern medicine coupled with the help of science and technology are on the cutting edge of helping people live much longer and making people to function at a higher mental capacity long past the retirement age of 70 years for Liberia’s Justices.

    This scenario of working effectively beyond 70 years applies in many mentally challenging professions like doctors, scientists, engineers, just to name a few. Why not amend the outdated 1986 Constitution to increase the retirement age of Chief Justice and Associate Justices of Liberia to at least 75 years of age to prevent the rapid disorganized revolving door of appointing new Justices in the Judicial Branch of Government (The Supreme Court)?

    Take for example, in the United States, which Liberia so proudly boasts of modelling its constitution after: Supreme Court Judges are appointed for life, unless, impeached and convicted by Congress for malfeasance, resign, or retire. The oldest member of SCOTUS (Supreme Court of The United States), Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85, and she is sharp as a knife.

    In conclusion, 70 years is just too young to retire Supreme Court Justices in these modern days especially when they still have their mental and physical capacities to function effectively on the bench of the Supreme Court of Liberia. This is my opinion.

    “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” The retirement age for Chief Justice and Associate Justices in Liberia could be raised to 75 years, followed by whatever provisions in the constitution for their removal.

    Again, Happy Retirement Justice Banks!!!!

  6. I’ve often wondered why in Liberia there’s the age limit for Justices of the Supreme Court. The life appointment for Justices of the courts, at the level where their legal interpretations could be rulemaking, and have national impact, is intended to maintain the Justices’ Independence from political and other influences, since there appointments are usually influenced by politics and others factors, considering they meet the academic and bar criteria. For Liberia, a nation that is poor with limited retirement perks for retirees, the life appointment for Supreme Court Justices’ will help mitigate the risk of judges accepting bribes as a means to secure their livelihood when they retire. On the other issue commented on above, Judges of the highest court can practically say or do lots of things, including choosing not to recuse oneself from a case that presents the appearance of a conflict of interest. They can only be impeached for acts in accordance with the Constitution.

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