Liberia’s Judiciary ‘Influenced by Corruption’

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US Human Rights Reports in 2015 has branded the Judiciary and the entire justice system of Liberia as “corrupt.”

Accordingly, acceptance of bribes by judges and juries, police harassment and extortion of money from drivers and biased treatment given alleged corrupt government officials are highlighted in the 2015 report concerning Liberia.

In line with the Liberian Constitution, the report says, there should be an independent Judiciary, but the third branch of government that is responsible for interpreting the law is highly influenced by corruption.

“The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but judges and magistrates were subject to influence and corruption. Uneven application of the law and unequal distribution of personnel and resources remained problems throughout the judicial system. The government continued efforts to harmonize the traditional and formal justice systems in particular through campaigns focused on trying criminal cases in formal courts. These cases included murder, rape, and human trafficking, as well as some civil cases that could be resolved in either formal or traditional systems,” the report says.

The report went further to note that bribery was a factor in determining which cases were tried and what the outcome of cases would be.

“Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors. Corrections officers sometimes demanded payment to bring a detainee before the Magistrate Sitting Program.”

It is also stressed in the report that there is an overwhelming pretrial detainee problem at the Monrovia Central Prison (MCP), which is in violation of the Liberian Constitution and the international convention on human rights.

“Although the law provides for a defendant to receive an expeditious trial, lengthy pretrial and pre-arraignment detention remained serious problems. An estimated 78 percent of prisoners were pretrial detainees as of November, despite the large number of detainees released by the Magistrate Sitting Program during 2014 to reduce Ebola virus disease (EVD) transmission in overcrowded prisons. Unavailability of counsel at the early stages of proceedings contributed to prolonged pretrial detention. A 2013 study of the MCP population revealed pretrial detainees were held on average more than 10 months. For example, an LNP officer was detained for nearly four months without a formal charge on suspicion of manslaughter after a civil disturbance in Paynesville in April.”

Juries are also accused in the report of being partial due to acceptance of bribes that influence their decisions.

“Trials are public. Juries are used in circuit court trials, but not at the magistrate level. Jurors were subject to influence and corrupt practices that undermined their neutrality. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, and have access to government-held evidence relevant to their case. Defendants have the right to be informed of the charges promptly and in detail. If a defendant, complainant, or witness does not speak or understand English, the court provides interpreters for the trial. Defendants also have the right to a trial without delay and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense, although these rights often were not observed. Defendants are presumed innocent and they have the right to confront and question adverse witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. These rights, however, were not observed consistently.”

The Liberia National Police (LNP) is accused in the report of misconduct and corruption as evidenced by suspension or dismissal of several of its officers.

It further indicated that in January of 2015, police authorities dismissed and referred to the judicial system for trial of two officers for alleged misappropriation of L$2.9 million entrusted to them for the EVD control operations.

The Report also indicated that “The LNP’s Professional Standards Division (PSD) is responsible for investigating allegations of police misconduct, and referring cases for prosecution. In January 25 officers of the division participated in a three-day training activity related to a plan intended to decentralize its operations into five regions; training covered PSD policy and procedure, investigation, and report writing.

“The National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) reported that violent police action during arrests was the most common complaint of misconduct.”

However, the report also alluded to the fact that regular LNP officers are poorly equipped, ineffective, and slow to respond to criminal activity; although foot patrols met with some successes in curbing crimes in some areas.

Limited transportation, communication and forensic capabilities, and lack of capacity to investigate crimes including violence constitute some of LNP’s challenges.

“The lack of a crime laboratory and other investigative tools hampered police investigations and evidence gathering that, in turn, hampered prosecutors’ ability to prepare court cases,” the report emphasizes.

In reference to the Constitution on free movement within Liberia, foreign travel, emigration and repatriation, the report noted that the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) and the LNP subjected travelers to arbitrary searches and petty extortion at unofficial checkpoints.

Regarding corruption in government, the report said some officials engaged in corrupt practices and went with impunity. It did not state who were involved.

It mentioned low salary for civil servants, minimal job training, and little judicial accountability as conditions that exacerbated official corruption and contributed to a culture of impunity.

According to the report, the President will dismiss or suspend some officials for corruption, while others will be dismissed and sent to court for prosecution; something that seems to manifest conflict of interest in decision making on the part of the President.

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