Since the close of the 8th United Nations Congress adopted in 1990, state actors agreed on this basic principle that says, “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceeding.”
The basic principle further places responsibility upon the government and the legal profession to ensure that everyone has access to counsel, regardless of means or background, to protect the right to equality before the law.
In adherence to this international obligation, Associate Justice Yussif Kaba, the chairman of the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC), is now placing the responsibility on his commission to provide a lawyer for Hans Armstrong, a British national, to represent him in the ongoing investigation of Judge Roland Dahn of the 8th Judicial Circuit Court in Nimba County.
Justice Kaba’s letter comes after the commission had postponed two of the hearings of Judge Dahn’s Investigation for unethical conduct. Initially, Armstrong had complained before Justice Kaba’s commission that he was finding it difficult to obtain a Liberian lawyer to represent his interest in the ongoing investigation of his complaint against Judge Dahn before the JIC.
Armstrong had earlier accused Judge Dahn of holding secret conversations with one of the parties, the Senate Secretary, Nanborlor Singbeh, while a criminal accusation brought before the court by Singbeh against him were still pending.
Justice Kaba’s letter placed a condition as to whether Armstrong would accept the commission’s request for a lawyer to represent him since almost all of the lawyers of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) have allegedly refused to represent him.
The communication, dated February 24, 2021, said, “The commission would like to know if you would be pleased for us to request Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to kindly instruct the Public Defenders Office to provide you with adequate legal representation throughout the tenure of the investigation of your complaint before us.”
It concludes: “Your prompt response in the premise is highly solicited.”
Consistent with the international obligations as imposed by international Law, the Supreme Court of Liberia in 2009 established the National Public Defense Program administered through the Public Defenders Office (PDO) under the direct coordination of a Coordinator for Public Defense.
The Program aims to provide legal representation to indigent criminal defendants as well as enhancing access to justice for all individuals suspected or accused of crimes, including those arrested or detained”, with the goal of protecting the fundamental rights of the criminal defendant as enshrined in the following provisions of the Constitution of Liberia (1986) reflected below as follows:
“Article 21(c)– Every person suspected or accused of committing a crime shall immediately upon arrest be informed in detail of the charges, of the right to remain silent and of the fact that any statement made could be used against him in a court of law. Such person shall be entitled to counsel at every stage of the investigation and shall have the right not to be interrogated except in the presence of counsel. Any admission or other statements made by the accused in the absence of such counsel shall be deemed inadmissible as evidence in a court of law.”
“Article 21(f)– Every person arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty-eight hours. Should the court determine the existence of a prima facie case against the accused, it shall issue a formal writ of arrest setting out the charge or charges and shall provide for a speedy trial. There shall be no preventive detention.”
“Article 21(h)– No person shall be held to answer for a capital or infamous crime except in cases of impeachment, cases arising in the Armed Forces and petty offenses, unless upon indictment by Grand Jury; and in all such cases, the accused shall have the right to a speedy, public and impartial trial by a jury of the vicinity, unless such person shall, with appropriate understanding, expressly waive the right to a jury trial. In all criminal cases, the accused shall have the right to be represented by counsel of his choice, to confront witnesses against him and to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor. He shall not be compelled to furnish evidence against himself and he shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. No person shall be subject to double jeopardy”.
“Article 21(i) – The right to counsel and the rights of counsel shall be inviolable. There shall be no interference with the lawyer-client relationship. In all trials, hearings, interrogatories and other proceedings where a person is accused of a criminal offense, the accused shall have the right to counsel of his choice; and where the accused is unable to secure such representation; the Republic shall make available legal aid services to ensure the protection of his rights.”