Retrospect on the Judiciary 2013

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    The judiciary (also known as the judicial system' or court system) is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state.

    It also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes.

    Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the Judiciary generally does not make law (that is, in a plenary fashion, which is the responsibility of the legislature) or enforce law (which is the responsibility of the executive), but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case.

    This branch of the state is often tasked with ensuring equal justice under the law.

    It usually consists of a court of final appeal called the Supreme Court, together with lower courts.

    In many jurisdictions the judicial branch has the power to change laws through the process of judicial review.

    It is to encourage public interest litigation on behalf of poor and oppressed by using a very broad interpretation of several articles of the constitution.

    Unfortunately, the Liberia Judiciary has being considered by several international human rights group as one of the most corrupt institution in the country.

    In most of the 2013 reports on the Judiciary, it was established that Judges sometimes requested bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases.

    The report also went on to say that defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested that defendants pay a gratuity to appease judges, prosecutors, jurors, and police officers or to secure favorable rulings from them.

    During 2013 several jurors were sent to prison and sometime the entire jury was disbanded by judges because of bribery or jury tempering.

    One of such alleged juror’s bribery case took place, during the trial of 18 defendants charged with mercenaries, for their alleged involvement in a cross border raid in neighboring Cote d’ Ivoire sometimes between 2011 and 2012.

    At which time, then presiding Judge Yussif Kaba was compelled to suspend the trial and sentenced the involved juror, Jeremiah Neufville to three (3) months imprisonment at the Monrovia Central Prison, without conducting an investigation into the alleged bribery.

    His action came after the juror admitted that he misled the court about his name, adding that his biological name was Jeremiah Dweh and not Jeremiah Neufville.

    Eventhough, he claimed that the reason for state lawyers' bill of information was as a result of his refusal to accept an offer for a verdict in their favour.

    Before to name changing and exposure of attempted bribery, state prosecutors had filed a bill of information to the court seeking the imprisonment of juror Jeremiah Neufville because he allegedly lied under oath.

    They informed the court that his action was a complete dishonesty and criminal in nature.

    "State lawyers have promised each member of the 13 jurors US$2,000 for a guilty verdict against the defendants.” Juror Neufville in open court claimed.

    "They informed Bailiff Williams Supee that they have some information on … but were not satisfied with me because the defendants were my kinsmen,” he narrated.

    "They claimed that I was a problem for them in this trial, because I'm refusing to cooperate. They promised to release damaging information on me that will lead me to jail for three months.”

    “Your Honor before God and man I never came here to serve as a juror with a mind-set in favour of the defendants but to do the right thing," Neufville justified his motive to serve on the jury panel.

    He went on to dump prosecution by claiming that “At the hospital where my colleagues went for treatment, my name was mentioned to Solicitor General Cllr. Betty L. Blamo that I was not in favour of them after US$26,000 was allegedly promised to be given to us.

    "I know they were going to file this bill of Information. I'm not surprised by the state lawyers' action. I'm ready for the investigation but we were offered US$26,000 for a guilty verdict in this mercenary trial here,” the juror said.

    Besides, the reported corrupt activities of the Judiciary, other efforts have been made by His Honor Chief Justice Francis Korkpor led administration to fight corruption and regain the image of the Judiciary.

    One major decision in 2013 was the suspension of Cllr, Marcus Jones for five years, for his failure to account for US$62,130.98.  

    Cllr. Jones is a former presidential candidate in the 2005 General and President Elections and former Solicitor General of the Republic of Liberia.

    Besides the five years suspension given Cllr. Jones, Attorney James K. Saybay was also given a year’s suspension for what the Court described as his shady deals. 

    Two others Circuit Judges, including Judge Korbo Nuta were also suspended for a period of six months each, for their ethical transgression.

    He then concluded that with all these measures in place, one can safely concluded by stressing that the Supreme Court has risen to the occasion in its fight against corruption.

    In Cllr. Jones’ case he was suspended for mishandling and misapplying the death claim of Rev. Eric M. Allison’s wife, which the Supreme Court said that he committed serious and ethical and professional misconduct against his client.

    And his action was in violation Rule 15, the Code of Moral and Ethical Conduct of Lawyers.”

    Cllr. Jones was ordered suspended from practicing law in the country directly or indirectly for a period of five years and ordered to pay the amount of US$62,130.00 to Rev. Allison and his children within three months as of the date of the delivery of this opinion, failure of which his suspension will automatically become disbarment.

    Rev. Allison is a senior pastor of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (former head pastor of the Bardnersville Lutheran church), while Jones is currently a senior evangelist of the Bardnersville Lutheran Church in the Bardnersville Housing Estate.
    Rev. Allison lost his wife Amelia Allison in a Kenya Airways plane crash on January 30, 2000.

    Cllr. Jones was successful in the negotiation for an amount of US$182,000 with the Airways for the benefits of Rev. Allison and his three children.

    Upon receipt of the said amount, Jones requested a 33 percent as his legal fee which was accepted by Rev. Allison.

     Jones, being a respected lawyer, failed to promptly account for the balance of US$62,229.98 his client had entrusted him with to the extent that at a point in time, he even issued the Reverend bad check and or refused to give him his own money upon prompt request.

    Another major issues observed in 2013 is the way in which the budgetary allocation for the Judiciary is completely been controlled by the executive.

    In my minds, that undermines the separation of powers, as it creates a critical financial dependence of the judiciary.

    So, if we want to see a corruption free Judiciary, stakeholders need to consider making the judiciary to control their own budget.

    Authors

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