Public Defenders Riding Commercial Motorbikes?

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With the massive expenditure incurred by the Judicial Branch of Government to purchase luxury vehicles for Supreme Court Justices and Judges of subordinate courts, public defense lawyers in contrast are seen commuting on commercial motorbikes to get to their respective courts of assignment, especially those who have agreed to represent poor people in the leeward counties.
Elijah Forkeyah, president of the National Association of Public Defenders of Liberia (NAPDL) made the assertion last Friday in the crowded Banquet Hall, at the Temple of Justice where Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and foreign dignitaries were attending the association’s induction ceremony.
“A vehicle is a necessity. We need it to be effective in the performance of our duties,” said Forkeyah.
Public Defenders were performing their duties and responsibilities under difficult circumstances to the extent that some of their colleagues commute on commercial motorbikes to get to their respective places of assignments or to go to courts in their circuit or at magisterial courts, Forkeyah declared.
The Public Defense Program established in 2009 by the Supreme Court is to make available free legal aid services to poor people accused of criminal offenses, but are unable to secure a lawyer to represent them during their trial.
Prior to Forkeyah’s statement, Chief Justice Korkpor, while administrating the oath of office to NAPDL’s officials, sternly warned those lawyers not to charge fees to represent a client because they are being paid by the government.
“It is utterly wrong for you public defenders to charge fees for representing persons being charged with criminal offenses or expect some reward for representing them,” Korkpor charged.
He said public defenders are full time employees just like judges and other judicial staff. It is conflict of interest for them to use their time on duty for other gainful activities, adding, “This program is intended to benefit the poor and vulnerable people in society who cannot afford the astronomical costs of lawsuits.”
Surprisingly, after the Chief Justice’s warning and clarification on the program, President Forkeyah again explained to the gathering that they are performing under extreme conditions.
“These situations are not only demeaning, but place prosecution far above the public defense and create a situation where the public defenders are seen by the public as second class government lawyers.
Despite numerous challenges confronting the program, the NADPL President assured the gathering that their passion to serve the least in society, the downtrodden, less privileged and financially deprived people cannot be over-emphasized.
He added that they have dedicated their time, energy, efforts and entire self to a sincere legal representation of poor people to the best of their abilities.”
In praise of his colleagues, Forkeyah said, “regardless of our material and financial limitations, we are making significant strides to improve the justice system and promote access to justice.”

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