Chief Justice of Liberia, His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, yesterday descended strongly on unnamed members of the print and electronic media, who he said were in the habit of issuing threats and other means to blackmail judges in the country.
“Whenever their preferred party loses or whenever they are dissatisfied with the outcome of certain cases of their interest, they attribute such loss to wicked intent and conduct of the court,” Justice Korkpor claimed.
He added, “They go about spreading falsehood about the judiciary and issue threats and intimidations intended to blackmail judges.”
Chief Justice Korkpor made the statement on Monday, when he addressed the opening of the March 2015 term of court.
Appearing very serious, Chief Justice Korkpor reminded his audience, most of whom were lawyers, “While we are making efforts to restore credibility and integrity in the judiciary, a handful of our citizens, and some members of the print and electronic media are bent on discrediting our efforts.”
He advised media institutions and citizens to know that a judicial proceeding is not a football game or any game, wherein there may be a draw.”
“In a judicial proceeding,” the Chief Justice explained, “it is either all or nothing—that is, one side wins, while the other side loses, unless both sides settle their disagreement before final judgment is rendered in a proceeding.”
“Obviously,” he said, “a loser in a judicial proceeding and his or her supporters are not expected to be happy with the outcome of the proceeding, but their disagreement does not entitle them, under the guise of freedom of speech and of the press, to insult, vilify or threaten the judge who made the decision.”
According to him, freedom of speech and of the press and its limitations are provided in Chapter III, Article 15 (a) and (e) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution.
Article 15 (a) provides that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of expression, being fully responsible for the abuse thereof. This right shall not be curtailed, restricted or enjoined by government during an emergency declared in accordance with the Constitution.”
Also, Article 15 (e) provides that “This freedom may be limited only by judicial action in proceedings grounded in defamation or invasion of the rights of privacy and publicity or in the commercial aspect of expression in deception, false adverting and copyright infringement.”
But the Chief Justice explained that Article 15 (a), which contains the clause,“being fully responsible of the abuse thereof,” suggests that “there are certain aspects of the right to freedom of speech and of the press which are prohibited by law.”
“Thus, while recognizing that the liberty of the press and free expression of citizens are essential to a democratic society, the framers of our Constitution provided in Article 15 (e) that this freedom may be limited only by judicial action in judicial proceedings,” he clarified.
“Clearly,” the Chief Justice continued, “the provision of subsections (a) and (e) of Article 15 of our Constitution were intended to serve as disincentives for the abuse of the right to freedom of speech and of the press.”
Notwithstanding, he emphasized, “This court has in recent years observed with alarming regularity the blurring of the lines between the right to freedom of speech and of the press, and abuse of that right.
“This is constantly done through outright falsehood and invectives spouted out by print and electronic media institutions, talk shows and bloggers, etc.”
He stressed that the practice has the propensity to cause citizens to look on the judiciary and judicial officers with unjustified suspicion and disdain; with the intent to bring the judiciary into public distrust. Such conduct, he warned, does not augur well for Liberia and has to stop.
“Let me hasten to say that we in the judiciary respect and hold in high esteem the provision of our Constitution granting freedom of expression to the people,” he declared.
“And we welcome criticisms of judicial acts and decisions because this is not only permissible, but it is desirable under a constitutional democracy like ours.”
Judges, he said, are not any less immune to public scrutiny than ordinary citizens and members of the other branches of government.”
“In fact, as I have indicated, where it is established that a judge or judicial worker is involved in any act of impropriety, appropriate penalty is administered as we have done in the past,” he recalled.
“But what cannot be accepted are outright lies, innuendos intended to cast aspersions on and erode public confidence in the judiciary and judicial officials.”
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Korkpor warned that the “law gives the Supreme Court the authority to punish any act which offends its dignity, indeed, all courts in other jurisdictions have such authority. Let this be a notice to all.”