Members of the House of Representatives have unanimously voted to allow the National Elections Commission (NEC) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to grant the constitutional rights of pre-trial detainees to vote in the ensuing 2017 elections.
The House’s Plenary took the decision on Tuesday, February 14, following a recommendation from its Joint Committee on Judiciary and Election based on expert opinions from the Liberia National Bar Association and the Carter Center.
Pretrial detainees are accused persons in a criminal case that are held by law before trial, either because of failure to post bail or due to the denial of release under a pre-trial status.
According to the Committees’ findings from the legal and electoral experts, all pre-trial detainees have a vested constitutional right to vote based on the cornerstone of the legal system, where one is assumed to be innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
“That all prisoners who are not serving sentences for the commission of an infamous crime have a vested constitutional right to vote; that the Plenary informs the National Elections Commission that the interpretation of the law indicates that all prisoners have the right to vote except those serving sentences for the commission of an infamous crime as stated in Section 5.1 of the New Elections Law of Liberia.
“That this right of the prisoners to vote is granted by the Constitution in Article 77(b) and further defined by Section 5.1 of the New Elections Law be followed by creating the means and procedure for the registration and voting of the prisoners as per the category supra,” the report said.
“Who may vote; except one who has been judicially declared to be incompetent or of unsound mind, or who has been barred from voting as result of his or her conviction and imprisonment for an infamous crime which disenfranchised him as a voter and has not been restored to full citizenship…,” the report further said.
The House’s Judiciary Chairman, Rep. Worlea Saywah-Dunah, said in the New Elections Law, Chapter 5, Section 1, only those who committed “infamous crimes” cannot be allowed to vote.
The Joint Committee said the Liberia National Bar Association was represented by its President, Cllr. G. Moses Paegar and Cllr. Albert Sims, two prominent constitutional lawyers; and the Carter Center was represented by Cllr. Robert N. Gbarbea and Ms. Barbara, electoral experts.
“In their presentations, the Bar President, Cllr. Paegar, and his team said pre-trial prisoners have the right under the law to participate in the decision making process. Cllr. Gbarbea and his colleague also concurred with the Bar Association.”
The public hearing was held on January 25, 2017.
The investigation of the voting right of pre-trial detainees was due to a letter to Bong County District # 3 Representative George S. Mulbah, the Chairman on the House’s Defense Committee.