President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is urging all Liberians to commit to the rule of law and continue to preserve the peace in all that we do. “Individually, we have to commit to that so that the development that we see can continue,” she advised.
According to an Executive Mansion release, she made the assertion Friday, November 20, when she joined the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., at the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Complex in Sanniquellie, Nimba County.
The President used the opportunity to explain to the citizens of Nimba County the rationale of her Special Address to the Nation a day earlier. She stressed that together as a nation, the country has enjoyed 12 consecutive years of peace – something to which all Liberians have contributed.
She furthered that the development she catalogued in detail was to give recognition to the fact that because government subscribes to the rule of law, believes in justice, equality and equal opportunities, Liberia was able to enjoy 12 years of peace.
President Sirleaf admonished the citizens of Nimba County to adhere to the justice system, rather than engage in mob violence, as has been experienced on a number of occasions.
Though President Sirleaf has said she wouldn’t do anymore groundbreaking because she’s anxious to see projects completed, she conceded to this event in a spirit of cooperation between both branches when the head of the Judicial Branch asked her to participate. “I’m very glad to be here; I’m very pleased with why we are here in Sanniquellie,” she asserted.
In his remarks, Chief Justice Korkpor vowed that during his tenure as head of the Honorable Supreme Court, he will not relent until all hamlets, villages and communities in Liberia have the full benefit of a forum to address their grievances. He’s of the conviction that the majority of Liberians who live in rural areas of the country should also have access to courts to protect their defensible interest, like those in the cities.
He reiterated that courts exist for the singular purpose of doing justice to those who come before them, stressing that they are platforms for individual and collective redress as well as sanctuaries for those who are violated, injured or distressed.
“The courts must therefore always administer justice fairly and within time. They should never suffocate the people by the decisions they make thereby becoming part of the problem. Instead, the courts should remain the forums that equalize mankind and stabilize society,” Chief Justice Korkpor emphasized, stressing further, “No one is above the law – the rich and powerful, the poor, the big and small are all equal before the law.”
He added that before the law, every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty before a court of competent jurisdiction, saying that this concept of presumption of innocence is at the very core of the country’s legal system.
Chief Justice Korkpor assured that the Supreme Court, as head of the Judiciary, is committed to these noble principles on which the country’s jurisprudence is built, and will do everything to ensure that all courts precisely abide by them. He cautioned judges of subordinate courts against violating the tenets of Liberia’s jurisprudence, which are also enshrined in the Judicial Canons under which they operate.
The Chief Justice used the opportunity to appeal to Liberians to always take matters to the courts and wait for judicial determination. He urged them to refrain from taking the law into their own hands as the law considers the accused person innocent until the court has found them guilty.
When found guilty, Chief Justice Korkpor indicated, the law prescribes a particular punishment for a particular crime. He strongly warned that “mob action against an accused person and imputing guilt to others by mere association run contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence.”
Also making remarks, Justice Minister, Cllr. Benedict Sannoh, congratulated the Chief Justice for the endeavor and noted that when court houses are provided they enhance access to justice. “Having court houses in different parts of the country will enable people to resolve their disputes without taking the law into their hands, which is part of government’s peace consolidation strategy,” he said.
He highlighted other efforts that Chief Justice Korkpor has embarked upon to improve the judiciary, including the training of judges and magistrates, which complements the efforts of the judiciary in enhancing the operational effectiveness of security sector agencies.
Cllr. Sannoh used the occasion to stress that while it is true that the country has made significant progress, there are still challenges to the consolidation of peace. He highlighted prolonged pretrial detentions, excessive adjournments, delays in the trial of cases and a huge case backlog. He said although people may have access to justice, because of these challenges access to justice becomes frustrating.
The Justice Minister proposed that considering these constraints, it may be necessary that the courts come in to supplement the laws, statues, and concerns because they are already inadequate, incomplete and do not have all of the details to address the challenges that courts have. “We have to have ingenious ways to have a practical approach to the law,” Cllr. Sannoh stressed, suggesting that the plea bargaining process reduces the backlog of cases that the courts have.
He also touched on the increasing lawlessness in the country and said he takes the directive of President Sirleaf to him in her Special Address to the nation as extremely important, and will be implemented to the letter. Justice Minister Sannoh, therefore, appealed to all Nimbaians to be law-abiding citizens. “Security of the country does not rest in the hands of the police alone. We all have to work in a collaborative way to maintain the peace,” he urged.
On behalf of the Nimba County Legislative Caucus, the Acting Chair of the House’s Committee on Judiciary and Member of the Caucus, Representative Warlea Saywah Dunoh, expressed gratitude to government for the numerous infrastructure and other developments initiatives provided the people of Nimba County.
For his part, the president-elect of the Nimba County Bar Association, Cllr. Roland Dahn, on behalf of his colleagues, welcomed the construction of Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Complex, while frowning on the increase in mob violence in the county. He urged the aggrieved to seek redress through the courts rather than as they deem fit.
He promised that during his tenure, the bar association will introduce legal and civic education at all schools in the county so that people will know the legal procedures when they’re aggrieved. Cllr. Dahn assured that his association will provide legal services to indigents on a pro bono basis so that they can also have access to justice.
The judicial complex, which is being funded by the government of Liberia, when completed will house the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Debt, Traffic, Tax, Revenue Courts, and Magistrate Court for Sanniquellie. There will also be offices for the County Attorney, the Public Defenders and City Solicitors. Likewise, there will be living quarters for the resident circuit judge of the county and the assigned circuit judge who will preside there.
Chief Justice Korkpor hopes that this will relieve the government of the burden of continuous payment of rentals to private property owners to house the Judiciary and its functionaries. More importantly, they will provide easy access for all persons seeking justice and promote the cardinal principle of judicial independence.
Meanwhile, while returning to Monrovia, President Sirleaf made a stopover in Ganta, where she inspected a number of ongoing development projects – a market under construction and a 100-bed hospital singularly being constructed by Nimba County District No. 1 Representative Jeremiah Kpan Koung.
She also visited the Liberia International Christian College (LICC), a private Christian liberal arts college established in March 2009. The College offers associate degrees in Agriculture, Education, Business Administration and Theology.
On behalf of the administration, Lawrenso Korquoi, in a statement, appealed to President Sirleaf through the National Commission on Higher Education to accredit the LICC program to award bachelor’s degree. They also appealed for an increment in the allotment in the National Budget.