Stay Order Lifted, Supreme Court Cites Separation of Powers

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The Supreme Court of Liberia late Saturday afternoon ruled to lift the stay order it earlier imposed on all activities relating to the Special Senatorial Elections scheduled for December 16 this year. The decision was reached in a 3 against and 2 in favor of the Stay Order.

Those in favor of the stay order — Associate Justices Philip Banks and Kabineh Ja’Neh — argued that the Ebola epidemic, due to which the state of emergency was declared, resulting in the suspension of several constitutional rights, including the the postponement of the October 14 Special Senatorial Elections, still exists. They further argued that the National Elections Commission have so far not put in place any safety measures relating to campaign activities, which are expected to create large gatherings of people, and pose a threat to the gains Liberia has made so far in the fight against the spread of Ebola. If the elections go on, they further argued, it would undermine the safety guidelines put in place by local health authorities and international partners.

Those ruling against the stay order, including Associate Justices Jamesetta Wolokolie and Sianeh Yuoh, with Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor serving as a tie-breaker, argued that the issues raised in the petitions called into reference the separation of powers. The Ebola situation in Liberia, they said, is a political matter — not a constitutional matter — and therefore should be the responsibility of the Executive and Legislative branches of government to decide vis-a-vis elections. Therefore the Supreme Court stay order to halt elections activities could not hold.

All justices agreed, however, that the Executive, in consultation with the Legislature, can set elections dates.

Interestingly, there were three different petitions for the stay order before the Supreme Court. The most prominent of them, by the party incling Rev. Emmanuel Z. Bowier, Blamo Nelson, the National Democratic Coalition, Movement for Progressive Change and Milton and Nathaniel Barnes, was thrown out because the Supreme Court said the the petitioners did not follow the right procedures in filing the petition. The lawyer representing that party, Cllr. Lavelah Supuwood, who is also a former associate justice of the Supreme Court, was therefore fined US$300 for ‘misleading’ his clients.

Also, the request of Ministry of Justice to dismiss the petition for a stay order on the elections activities was denied by the High Court because it was filed too late.

The other petitioners, which include: Justice for Public Interest Consortium of Africa; as well as Cllr. Edwin Martin, who filed as an eligible voter, were the two petitioners whose filings were accepted and ruled upon by the Supreme Court.

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