Chief Justice: “it assails doctrine of separation of powers”
It appears that if careful consideration is not taken there could likely be a scramble between the Legislature and the Judiciary over a plan by lawmakers to establish a judiciary oversight committee that could slip the country into a constitutional crisis.
The function and mandate of that committee were not disclosed yesterday during the opening of the October 2018 Term of the Supreme Court.
But, during Chief Justice Francis Korkpor’s opening address, which was attended by President George Weah, Senate Pro-Tempore Albert T. Chie and Speaker Bhofal Chambers, he informed his audience that also included members of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), that, “We have heard a call or proposal for the establishment of a judiciary oversight committee within the legislature.”
It is not clear whether the lawmakers’ action resulted from the ongoing wrangling between the two Branches of Government over the impeachment of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh by majority members of the Lower House.
“What surprises me is that the call is being made from an unlikely source. We shall say more on this at the appropriate time, not in the too distant future,” Korkpor said. “But, suffice it to say for now that such a call does only undermine the independence of the judiciary, and it also directly assails the doctrine of separation of powers enshrined in our organic law, the Constitution.
“Let me reiterate,” Korkpor emphasized, “that we have and will continue to work so that the Supreme Court will remain a neutral, non-aligned and non-political Branch of the Government, a sanctuary to which the injured can see justice. We will continue to protect the liberty and freedom of all. It should be clear by now, judging from our many positions and opinions, that the court favors no particular person or institution, including the government.”
He continued, “If the government is in the right we will not hesitate to say so, but if the reverse is also true, we will remain only on the side of the law.”
Therefore, Korkpor assured party litigants that, “Those who have matters before this court should harbor no fear or apprehension of the expected outcome of their cases; your fate will be decided solely on the face of the law applicable.”
In response, Cllr. Frank Musa Dean, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia, reminded his colleagues that the faith of the common man in our judicial system is shaky, to say the least.
Addressing himself to the judicial Oversight Committee, Minister Dean said, “While a call or proposal for the establishment of a ‘judicial oversight committee’ within the legislature will undermine the doctrine of the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution, the judiciary must embark on self-cleansing.”
According to Dean, justice actors must work assiduously at self-policing and self-cleansing to restore the respect, faith, and confidence of the common people in the judiciary and the rule of law.
“Our courts’ judgments and actions must be grounded in and have the support of the law; and must be seen as fair, judicious and impartial,” Dean noted. “Our courts’ judgments must carry the moral authority required to demand compliance.”
Reflecting on the role of the Judiciary in the country’s constitutional democracy, Minister Dean quoted the words of the late Chief Justice James A.A. Pierre, in a case that involved C. Abayomi Cassell, Counsellor-at-Law, 14 LLR 391 (1960): “The Judiciary is the anchor which holds and stabilizes a government in a balance; without it, vested interest might suffer, sacred rights might be violated, constituted authority might be challenged and, in fact, administrative chaos could result.”
On the attendance of high profile government officials, Dean said, “It signals the unity, cordial working relationship, and the coordination that the Constitution contemplates among the Branches of Government. The doctrine of separation of powers does not imply antagonism.”
Article 3 of the 1986 Constitution says: “Liberia is a unitary sovereign state divided into counties for administrative purposes. The form of government is Republican with three separate coordinate branches: the Legislature, the Executive and Judiciary. Consistent with the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, no person holding office in one of these branches shall hold office in or exercise any of the powers assigned to either of the other two branches except as otherwise provided in this Constitution; and no person holding office in one of the said branches shall serve on any autonomous public agency.”
Also Article 34 provides that
“The Legislature shall have the power:
(a) to create new counties and other political sub-division, and readjust existing county boundaries;
(b) to provide for the security of the Republic;
(c) Armed Forces of the Republic, and to make appropriations therefor provided that no appropriation of money for that use shall be for a longer term than on year; and to make rules for the governance of the Armed Forces of the Republic;
(d) to levy taxes, duties, imports, exercise and other revenues, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and to make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic, subject to the following qualifications:
(i) all revenue bills, whether subsidies, charges, imports, duties or taxes, and other financial bills, shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills. No other financial charge shall be established, fixed, laid or levied on any individual, community or locality under any pretext whatsoever except by the expressed consent of the individual, community or locality. In all such cases, a true and correct account of funds collected shall be made to the community or locality;
(ii) no monies shall be drawn from the treasure except in consequence of appropriations made by legislative enactment and upon warrant of the President; and no coin shall be minted or national currency issued except by the expressed authority of the Legislature. An annual statement and account of the expenditure of all public monies shall be submitted by the office of the President to the Legislature and published once a year;
(iii) no loans shall be raised by the Government on behalf of the Republic or guarantees given for any public institutions or authority otherwise than by or under the authority of a legislative enactment;
(e) to constitute courts inferior to the Supreme Court, including circuit courts, claims courts and such courts with prescribed jurisdictional powers as may be deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice throughout the Republic;
(f) to approve treaties, conventions and such other international agreements negotiated or signed on behalf of the Republic;
(g) to regulate trade and commence between Liberia and other nations;
(h) to establish laws for citizenship, naturalization and residence;
(i) to enact the election laws;
(j) to establish various categories of criminal offenses and provide for the punishment thereof;
(k) to enact laws providing pension scheme for various categories of government officials and employees in accordance with age and tenure of service; and
(l) to make other laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the Republic, or in any department or officer thereof.
Article 65 also states that “The Judicial Power of the Republic shall be vested in a Supreme Court and such subordinate courts as the legislature may from time to time establish. The courts shall apply both statutory and customary laws in accordance with the standards enacted by the Legislature. Judgments of the Supreme Court shall be final and binding and shall not be subject to appeal or review by any other branch of Government. Nothing in this Article shall prohibit administrative consideration of the justiciable matter prior to review by a court of competent jurisdiction.”