Justice Minister Frank Musa Dean last Friday disclosed that his ministry was considering a plan to take most of the criminal cases involving murder, armed robbery and rape from Montserrado County to Maryland County for trial.
Minister Dean said there were lots of people in various prison facilities throughout the country waiting for trial; therefore, a change of venue would help to reduce reported overcrowding, particularly at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP).
Minister Dean said, “Lawyers are my friends and we want them to understand that we are going to make a decision to take some of your cases outside of Montserrado County, especially to Harper and Cape Palmas. But we don’t want you to stand in our way to prevent the change of venue if you want the accused to get a speedy trial.”
Dean made the assertion when he spoke at the celebration of Law Day, which took place at the Temple of Justice. He explained that his ministry may likely facilitate only the movement of lawyers and preferably the accused.
The Constitution affords a criminal defendant the right to a fair and impartial trial, which includes jurors who haven’t already made up their minds about the defendant’s guilt or innocence before ever seeing any evidence in court. If there are no impartial jurors, or if not very many can be found in the venue where the crime occurred, then the trial can be moved to a place where impartial jurors can be found.
The justice minister also reminded defendant lawyers about their interest in speedy trials of their clients, who may have been detained for years, “And since you are crying for speedy trial we are going to give it to you, but please cooperate because we will be traveling with you to Maryland County.”
The question that remains unanswered by Minister Dean was whether his ministry was prepared to facilitate the movement of family members of those accused to Maryland County for their trial.
According to Dean, the exercise was intended to enhance access to justice, to ease security and ensure that the rule of law was duly respected by the ministry.
“We continue to say overcrowding of prisons is the matter that we have to focus on, because it is a very serious issue and we are going to address it in a responsible manner,” the justice minister stated.