—Provides recommendations to gov’t
David A. Yates and Alvin Worzi
Harold Aidoo, executive director of the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), recalls how 127 criminal cases are being placed on court dockets and how there are 106 pre-trial detainees in prisons in three of the 15 counties.
Aidoo revealed further that the prolonged detention of accused person (s), especially the indigents (poor), without a speedy trial, is causing a serious embarrassment to the country’s judiciary system.
In Grand Gedeh County, for example, Mr. Aidoo said there are five pre-trial detainees, while Lofa County has 50 and Montserrado County 51.
He said some of the cases have been on courts dockets for nearly 12 years without being tried. This, Aidoo said, violates the rights of the accused person (s), while some of the suspects are arbitrarily held in police cells beyond the required 48 hours in violation of the law.
The disclosure was contained in remarks he made on Thursday, October 31, 2019, in Monrovia at a one-day monitoring outcome sharing on justice and security institutions’ performance accountability project. The project was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
Among those that attended the event were selected LNP officers, Liberia Trial Judges, members of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Liberia Law Reform Commission, Liberia National Bar Association and the Independent National Human Rights Commission.
He further made specific references to the Zone Six Police Depot in Brewerville, which Aidoo said held suspects David Dole, 29, and Nathaniel Sirleaf, 23, for four to seven days before being processed in court.
Aidoo added, “Arthington Magisterial Court has been without an Assigned Magistrate for nearly three years; this violates the rights of people to access the formal justice system, given an inadequate logistical support to enhance the administration of the justice system and weak monitoring supervision of courts by court inspectorate division of the judiciary branch of the government.”
He said the overcrowding of courts dockets is due to the ineffective court administration (Judges allowing too many continuances and judges lateness), which are some for the reasons causing the judiciary system to break down.
“Party litigants are always seen facilitating the transportation cost of inmates, thus making access to justice overlay expensive,” Aidoo said.
In such a situation, he recommended to the government that judges give attention to 18.2 of the criminal procedure law by sua sponte (on its own motion) dismissal of cases and release of persons under pretrial detention after two terms of the court.
Aidoo added, “That the inspectorate division of the Ministry of Justice be robust in monitoring courts’ performance, identify compelling issues that impede speedy administration of justice, and proffer appropriate policy actions to improve the effectiveness of courts administration.”
He also said that senior police authority should spearhead the robust monitoring of zones and depots, to ensure compliance with the 48 hours of detention of the Constitution for detained suspects.
“The Ministry of Justice provides logistical support to enhance the adjudication of criminal cases by the prosecution; this includes facilitating inmates’ transportation to and from prisons for trial instead of party litigants who have always facilitated the cost,” Aidoo said.
David K. Dahn, a representative from the Independent Human Rights Commission, said in the absence of cash bonds, the law provides for property value bonds.
However, the paradigm needs to be shifted towards providing legal counseling, which may include, but not limited to the showing of a legal pathway to the impoverished masses, educating the impoverished people about the writ of summons and writ of arrest.
Dahn also called on the government to create more awareness on how and when court orders are or should be effected.
Alex Magal, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Civil Society analyst, welcomed the outcome of the report.
“Those things the report captured are very important, therefore the need to be handled cannot overly stated. We are not only working with the government, but with members of civil society organizations (CSOs),” Magal said.