Majority Senators present at yesterday’s sitting went into heated arguments, after detecting what they claimed was a procedural error by the House of Representatives in their presentation of the Bill of notice to impeach Associate Justice Kabineh Mohammed Ja’neh of the Supreme Court.
The uproar started after the reading of “a Bill of Impeachment” by the Assistant Secretary of the Senate, and a motion proffered by Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence requesting the leadership of the Senate to take possession of the Bill, and appropriately communicate with the leadership of the House of Representatives for the necessary procedural corrections.
According to an insider, the Senate leadership is meeting to decide when it will communicate with the House to cite reasons for returning the bill to the House of Representatives.
“The Senate needs to see record of the proceedings leading to the passage of the bill, such as the process used for voting,” Sen. Lawrence’s communication said.
“As far as I know, there is no bill of impeachment before this Senate, because in the first place, where are the rules that will guide the Senate to try this thing before Supreme Court,” former Senate President Pro-Tempore Armah Zolu Jallah argued.
“What is the rush about on this bill; the trial will likely go on for the next 12 months, so let the House use the proper procedure,” some Senators were heard as saying amid the highly charged argument.
Article 43 of the Liberian Constitution states that: “The legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings, which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
Rule 63, Section 1 under the title: The Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials, stipulates thus: “Whenever the Senate receives notice from the House of Representatives that managers are appointed on their part to conduct an impeachment against any person, and are directed to carry articles of impeachment to the Senate, the secretary shall immediately inform the House of Representatives that the Senate is ready to receive the managers for the purpose of exhibiting such articles of impeachment agreeable to such notice.”
Section 2, also dealing with Senate’s sitting on impeachment bill, states: “When the managers of an impeachment shall be introduced at the Senate and shall signify that they are ready to exhibit articles of impeachment against any person, the Presiding Officer shall direct the Sergeant-at-Arms to make proclamation, who shall after making proclamation, repeat the following word: All persons are commanded to keep silent, on pain of impeachment, while the House of Representatives is exhibiting to the Senate of the Republic of Liberia, articles of impeachment against…”
Following that procedure, “the article shall be exhibited, and then the Presiding Officer shall inform the managers that the Senate will take proper order on the subject of impeachment, of which due notice shall be given to the House of Representatives. ”
However, legal experts say the Senate is completely out of order to demand from the House a submission of procedures on how the House derived the Bill of Impeachment. According to a renowned lawyer (name withheld), Article 43 of the Constitution specifically provides that the Legislature, meaning both Houses, shall prescribe the procedures for impeachment.
According to the lawyer, the Constitution does not provide that the Senate should singularly determine the rules of procedures for impeachment and neither can the Senate demand explanations on how the Bill of Impeachment was derived, as such falls strictly within the purview of the House of Representatives. The Senate’s sole responsibility in this regard, the lawyer suggests, is to try the Bill of Impeachment on the strength of its merits. The presence of the Chief Justice as presiding officer is to deal with issues of law while the Senate should/would deal with issues of fact.
Further, according to the lawyer, impeachment is a quasi-judicial process not necessarily a trial at law. And in this regard, according to the lawyer, plenary of the House of Representatives was not in error for having submitted a Bill of Impeachment to the Senate. Trial by the Senate would/should determine whether the impeachable offense(s) warrant removal from office as being demanded by Plenary of the House of Representatives, the lawyer maintained.
Impeachment in such proceedings according to the lawyer, hinges on a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate, acting in this case as a jury. However, he said, Justice Ja’neh may be tried at law, as the Constitution provides in Article 43, for criminal offenses levied against him.