Justice Banks Slams Law Reform Commission

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Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks

Describes LRC’s performance since 2016 “absolutely zero”

Supreme Court Justice Associate Philip A. Z. Banks has described the Law Reform Commission’s performance in the country since its establishment in 2016 as “absolutely zero” and has promised to no longer remain silent on issues that affect the court.

“I am taking a serious issue with this institution [LRC] that said I and other people crafted the legislation for its establishment, because of Boakai Kanneh, the chairman of poor performance,” Justice Banks stated when he served as a guest speaker at a program in observance of the Law Day on Friday, May 4.

The celebration was organized by the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and was held in the conference room of the Temple of Justice.

Justice Banks spoke on the topic, “Transforming Our Legal and Judicial System and Legal Psyche to Meet the New and Evolving National Challenges.”

Banks said “Since Kanneh took over as chairman of the LRC in 2016, he has not done anything to show that he has lived up to the expectation of the law reform processes for which he was appointed to serve; absolutely he cannot account for one,” said a visibly angry Justice Banks on Friday, May 4.

Cllr. Kanneh, who is also a member of the Supreme Court bar, recently accused the Court of being in the practice of committing “gross human rights violations” by keeping pretrial detainees in detention against what the law requires. He served as one of the panelists at the Africa Pre-trial Detention Day Celebration in Monrovia.

The Bureau of Correction and Rehabilitation at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) recently released a report claiming that of the 1,098 inmates at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP) over 800 are pre-trial detainees.

Kanneh noted that the Supreme Court has five justices and that one of its terms takes six months; therefore, to admit that they decided 34 cases that were on appeal is “unimaginable.

“This means that each of the justices heard one appeal case per month and about six and a half cases for the entire six months. What do you expect to happen? There will be too many people in jail,” the Law Reform Chairman said.

“This is a violation of the rights of the people as prescribed by the constitution,” Cllr. Kanneh said, making reference to a high number of pre-trial detainees at the Monrovia Central Prison and other detention centers across the country.

However, serving as guest speaker during the Law Day Celebration, Justice Banks to the amazement of his audience, which included President George Weah, argued that, “Kanneh should understand that the Act that created the LRC gives him the right, in fact, to review laws of the country, and to advise not only the courts but also the legislature and the executive, which he had miserably failed to do.”

Banks, who said he will be retiring from his post because he will reach the retirement age of 70 by June of this year, boasted, “I am going to say my last words, because in a few weeks or days, I will be retiring; and so, I am not going to leave anything in my stomach.”

He continued, “I will not remain silent anymore on criticisms against the Supreme Court.”

The judicial cannon restricts the justices from making any political statement or reacting to any negative statement against them as judges. But Banks said he was not prepared anymore to accept negative criticism, especially from Kanneh, who was practicing law before the Supreme Court.

Banks argued that there are more outdated laws on the books in the country, which Kanneh should be reviewing to have those laws amended, “but he has failed himself and the country for those years.”

Justice Banks contended that since Kanneh believes that his institution was different from the Supreme Court, it would have been better for him to look at some major problems confronting the low number of cases being heard by the five justices.

“Kanneh should be looking at what is wrong with the Supreme Court; are the five justices enough to handle the huge backlog of cases originating from all the courts like the magisterial courts throughout the country?” Justice Banks asked rhetorically.

Banks added, “Kanneh should be looking at means to amend the constitution to increase the justices from five to either 7 or 9, or to establish an intermediate court.”

The Supreme Court justice suggested that intermediate courts would be able to hear cases that are on appeal, especially from the lower courts, including the magisterial courts in order to lower the workload of the justices.

According to Banks, with the establishment of the intermediate courts, it would give the Supreme Court the sole responsibility to hear serious appeal cases like murder, constitutional challenges, and cases involving huge money liability.

“These were things we expected to have heard from Kanneh, but to say we are violating human rights of people, it means that he does not know that his institution has the mandate to review all laws of the country and make recommendations for their amendment,” Banks emphasized.

Before Justice Banks’ contention, Cllr. Kanneh had recounted the Supreme Court’s recent report during the closing of its March Term that  claimed it had delivered opinion (judgment) on 34 out of hundreds of cases pending on its docket.

Cllr. Boakai Kanneh chairman, the Law Reform Commission

These reports, Cllr. Kanneh suggested, are not good for the country’s criminal justice system. Besides the Supreme Court, Cllr. Kanneh said the magisterial court should also be blamed for the manner in which it proceeds with criminal cases.

The law provides that if a person is taken to court, the court should take 10 days to collect evidence from the complainant and proceed immediately with the case. However, in the absence of sufficient evidence after the ten days, the case should be dismissed and the accused set free. This, he said, is not happening.

“The court is only excited to see people going to jail and remain there while the complainant looks for evidence to be used against the accused. This is completely wrong and a violation of the accused person’s rights to fair and speedy trial,” Cllr. Kanneh indicated, adding that, “Something needs to be done in that direction.”

The Law Reform Commission evolved out of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Liberia and Liberia’s governance, concluded and executed in Accra, Ghana, on August 18, 2003.

For the purpose of correcting the governance framework and processes, the CPA established a Governance Reform Commission, to promote good governance and initiate a process of initiating the necessary reform measures for the more effective governance of the nation.

The LRC, among its many functions, is to supervise the law reform process of the country and serve as the coordinating arm of the government for various law reforms desired or being undertaken by various ministries, agencies, political subdivisions, authorities, public corporations and other institutions of government.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The angry outburst of Phillip Banks in this case is unwarranted and self-serving. Justices of the Supreme Court should always be about seizing the opportunity to educate and inform members of the judiciary, with the objective of improving and transforming that system for the good of all. Trading jabs and insults is bullying and unbecoming especially of anyone on our supreme court. Very uncalled for.

  2. First of all, the Law Reform Commission was not established in 2016. Cllr Kanneh is not the first Chsirman of thisCommission. Additionally, just because Justice Banks is retiring does not give him the prerogative to operate out of the statutes of the Supreme Court. While Cllr Kanneh’s Commission has the responsibility to advise the Executive and Legislative Branches of government; the Supreme Court must also admit that some of the lapses brought to light by Cllr Kanneh could have been resolved by the Supreme Court in a simple order. There should be no one locked up for five years without due process such as a court appearance. Too many of our children are in juvenile detention because we have no facilities to rehabilitate them or due process to release them. Fix it and do not keep pointing fingers at each other.

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