— Says a public defender, as Circuit Court Judge warns magistrates against “Bond Fee” collection
Circuit Court Judge, J. Boima Kontoe, has warned Magistrates in Nimba to desist from taking ‘Bond fees’ from defendants or face some serious consequences when caught in the act.
At the opening of the February Term of Court in Sanniquellie on February 8, 2021, Judge Kontoe who now presides over the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court overly emphasized the need for Magistrates not to take bond fee, something that almost overshadowed the court’s opening ceremony.
“If any complaint of taking bond fee from defendant reaches me, I will surely send such person to face the Judicial Inquiry Committee at the Temple of Justice,” Judge Kontoe said.
“Only surety bond and property bond are allowed under the law, not bond fee,” he added.
In response, Public Defender, Atty. Tairlo N. Wehyee, affirmed that the crowdedness of court dockets as well as the prison is a result of bond fees imposed by magistrates where, when the accused cannot afford to pay they are sent to jail.
“They are taking bond fee unlawfully, even for charges like ‘persistent non support, disorderly conduct and so on, and if the alleged perpetrator does not have the bond fee, they are sent to jail,” Public Defender Wehyee said.
“If someone was brought to court for not supporting his friend under persistent non support and then you the judge asks him to pay L$700 or more as bond fee, do you know how unfair you are to the person who brought a complaint?”
Atty. Wehyee complained further that the office of the Public Defender is faced with serious logistical constraints, thus depriving them of visiting most of the far-to-reach magisterial courts in the county and leaving the magistrates to do their ‘own things.’
“Magistrates have now become a Supreme Court of their own, judging all cases, including land cases, marriage and even rape cases in their areas of assignment,” he added.
“If we had the logistics, especially a vehicle, we would have visited some of these magistrates so they can see different faces of lawyers instead of dealing with one set or group all of the time,” Public Defender Wehyee said.
The Magistrates Association of Nimba responded that there are some level of changes in the magisterial courts now in Nimba, adding, “The Magistrates are also facing some challenges in term of transporting a convict or alleged perpetrator to the central prison.”
In so doing, the Magistrates through their organization’s spokesperson said they solicit money from the plaintiff or complainant to enable them transport the accused or convict to the prison, noting that those who do not understand it consider it as extorting bond fee.
The response from the Magistrate Association was received with laughter from the hall, with many murmuring that the statement was ambiguous and not justifiable.
There are 58 criminal cases on the trial docket in this February Term of Court at the Eighth Judicial Circuit Court, which Judge Kontoe urged the prosecutor to ensure that those cases on the docket are speedily tried.
“If you are overwhelmed by these cases, inform the Ministry of Justice for an additional prosecuting lawyer to be added for the speedy trial of the cases, but failure on your part to proceed with these cases under your jurisdiction, we will recommend your dismissal,” he warned.
County Attorney John Miah acknowledged the crowded docket but said when he took over as County Attorney last year, he noticed that the perpetrators of most of the cases on docket could not be found in jail anymore, while some have been dealt with and still remain on the docket.
“I have made several assignments, but cannot see the perpetrators in the jail house,” he said.
There are two judges assigned in Nimba to preside over cases in this term of court, for Sexual Abuse Court/Criminal Court ‘E’ section at the 8th Judicial Circuit, George Cooper Katakpah will preside, while Judge Kontoe will preside over other criminal and civil cases, respectively.