Sen. Sherman Wants Judicial Oversight Commission Established

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Sen. Varney G. Sherman

Submits Proposed Amendments to the 1986 Constitution

Senate chair on Judiciary Senator Varney Sherman has submitted to that august body a recommendation to establish a Judicial Oversight Commission (JOC) that would be directly responsible to the Legislature.

The Grand Cape Mount County senator’s recommendation is part of several proposals on the amendment of the 1986 Constitution submitted to the senate last Thursday for consideration.

Article 54(c) and Article 68 of the Constitution stipulates that the chief justice is appointed with the advice and consent of the senate; but the Constitution Review Commission says the chief justice should be elected; former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf disagreed.

In his proposed amendments, Sherman explained that in some states of the United States of America, the justices of the highest courts of those states, as well as judges of lower courts, are elected; “however, at the level of the federal system of the United States, it is as Liberia’s Constitution provides, they are appointed with the consent of the senate.”

Sen. Sherman’s presentation before the Senate Sitting as a committee of the whole, said the frustration of the public is that the judiciary is not performing according to people’s expectations, and the reason for that is because they have tenure until they retire at 70.

“The public believes that if the chief justice were subject to regular elections, the judiciary will perform better,” Sherman said.

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Temple of Justice, seat of the Liberian Judiciary

Sen. Sherman pointed out, however, that “elections don’t always ensure efficiency and can be expensive and corrupted. Elections are based on popularity, not necessarily competence, qualification, credibility and integrity, which are attributes of a good chief justice.”

In order for the judiciary to respond to the needs and aspirations of the Liberian people, Sen. Sherman said the Legislature should exercise its oversight responsibilities over the judiciary; “except for its power of impeachment, the Legislature has not enacted any law as the instrument to use in the exercise of its oversight responsibility over the judiciary.”

He continued, “So, the Legislature should consider the possibility of establishing a Judicial Oversight Commission directly responsible to the Legislature. It will assist the Legislature in reviewing the performance and conduct of justices of the supreme court and all judges and magistrate and report on them on a regular basis to the Legislature for the latter’s necessary action.” Through this, Sherman asserted, corruption and inefficiency will be minimized within the judiciary.

Like the president reports to the Legislature, Sen. Sherman said the judiciary should also report to the Legislature; the Legislature itself should report to the other two branches of the government. “Laws can be enacted to give effect to these proposals.

“There is no need for an amendment of the constitution to provide for election of the chief justice as the remedy for the concern of the citizens,” Sen. Sherman told his colleagues.

Debate on his presentation and other presentations relating to several other crucial Acts and Bills, are expected to commence soon after the senate’s executive session, to deliberate on its own rules expected this Thursday.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I applaud Senator Sherman for his effort to mitigate the deficiencies in fairness in the court system due to lack of accountability. But I think his suggestion to have judges elected creates another problem. If judges are to be elected, then the candidates to judicial offices will become politicians and the one with the most influence with his or her money may win based on popularity and not merits and character. I suggest what former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor suggested. Have a nonpartisan commission (e.g., made up of legal experts from academia, private practice, non lawyers from other areas of Liberian society) from all political spectrum. The nonpartisan commission draws up and maintains a list of highly qualified individuals based on their merits that will serve as a pool for candidates to open judicial seats. Also, a life appointment to the Supreme Court should be considered, such that even if politics influenced the appointment, the judge is free to be impartial as the President can’t fire him, neither can the majority pressure him to make an unconstitutional decision based on the fact that he could be voted out of office. Furthermore, the judiciary should be established to demonstrate that it is an equal branch of government to the other two branches. It doesn’t appear as such. If I was a Justice on the Liberian Supreme Court, I would declare the provision in the constitution setting a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices as unconstitutional in that it violates the separation of power amongst the three branches of government, because the rationale given for the age limit is not supportable as a means in furthering the Court’s functions. Just my thoughts.

  2. Larry, thanks for this brilliant idea, at least let these Judges be free from political influences. As it is now, it is legislative caucuses who are now recommending people to become Judges in some counties now. If legislature recommend that you become a Judge, and there is a case before that Judge and this particular Legislators, how will this Judge rule?

    Thanks.

  3. Judicial Oversight Commission, Public School Education Oversight Commission, Public Works’ Construction Oversight Commission, National Security and Public Safety Oversight Commission, and other oversight commissions are necessary to lift Liberia from the ravages of backwardness. Until our nation prioritizes efficiency, estimated annual productivity monetarily would remain about half a billion US dollars, when it should be around 2 billions. And you can have Jesus and Mohammed as president and vice president, but with that annual pittance, commotion is a stalker.

  4. Lest I forget what I wanted to say; in as much as Justice Philip Banks is not my cup of tea, I would rather a brain like his stays on the Supreme Court Bench for another five years than to put someone there who wouldn’t find time to research the difference in the elements of theft and embezzlement. Or wouldn’t care of the importance of consent in such offenses, or the significance of malice – mens rea – in murder cases. Why do we copy the ugliness of the US, but leaves some of her beauty like in keeping sound judges up to the age of 80years?

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