Senators Detect Procedural Error on Impeachment Bill

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Senators Oscar Cooper, Conmany Wesseh and Daniel Naatehn holding consultation on the impeachment bill during yesterday's sitting.

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.

19 COMMENTS

  1. To Senators. You are responsible for drafting your own rules. You have no jurisdiction over the procedures and proceedings of the House. Each Chamber has a sole vested role assigned to it.

    There’s no Constitutional provision requiring the House to provide the process and procedures it followed in exercising its vested sole constitutional duties.

    • Larry, this is a legal matter. It does not matter where decisions are made, rules must be followed. Remember, the legislature is a united branch of law making and oversight of the government. You can’t say bwhat happens at the lower house has no effect on decisions the upper house would take. Everyone must follow the rules. The Senate found out procedural errors which needs to be dealt with. This is not some kind of kangaroo court system here.

      • Niamon. You’re right, it’s a legal matter. That’s why it matters where decisions are made and those decisions and how they are made, including the jurisdiction over each of those decisions is delineated in the Constitution. And the Constitution does not give the Senate the jurisdiction to determine the House compliance of its own rules. That’s what “vested” and “sole” relay. The issue raised by the Senate as procedural errors, as stated in the above story, is out of the Senate’s scope of authority under the constitution.

        You stated the following:
        “Remember, the legislature is a united branch of law making and oversight of the government. You can’t say bwhat happens at the lower house has no effect on decisions the upper house would take. Everyone must follow the rules. ”

        Nothing you wrote in this paragraph is relevant to the impeachment proceedings. There’s no law been made and if a law was being passed, each Chamber has its unique role separate from the other and then a joint session to pass it.

        Where did I state, “…what happens at the lower house has no effect on decisions the upper house would take”? Also, the decision the upper Chamber takes is based on its own proceedings governed by its own rules and procedures. The Senate has no responsibility to tell the House how it will conduct the trial, neither does the House has jurisdiction over the Senate process. And, Niamon, that’s following the rules.
        I will also ask that you avail yourself of numerous comments I have written on related stories that addressed various questions on constitutional jurisprudence, as they relate to this impeachment proceedings.

  2. How did the House of Representatives derive at the impeachment of Ja’neh? What’s the DUE PROCESS of the law? That’s the question the Honorable Senators are requesting. Please show the Liberian people.

    • Oumaru and Jerome. There’s no provision in the Constitution for the House to explain their rules and procedures to the Senate.

      The Senate is vested with sole authority for the trial part of the proceedings based on the process and procedures of the Senate. That is what Due Process is in impeachment proceedings. A process that is due. The House has completed its task, which is similar to an indictment in a criminal trial at court, and has listed the charges with supporting evidence. This is not a trial between the House and the Justice. I have provided enough prior comments in related stories explaining Due Process, case laws and historical facts under U.S. jurisprudence, since Liberia may not have any such in its legal history, and would most likely rely on U.S. jurisprudence. So, I won’t elaborate on those legal terms here.

  3. In contrast to what some may believe, the trial is not held before the Supreme Court. This is a Senate trial with the rules and procedures of the Senate. The Senate is both the judge and jury. The Chief Justice presides, but follows the rules of the Senate. He can raise procedural questions to ensure due process, but this is not a trial at court. So the accused Justice’s lawyers will do well if they’re mindful that the Senate may still make a political decision in their voting. As such, the defense of the Justice should be to exonerate him from the accused crimes with legal defenses that would be used if this was a trial at court and, secondly an appeal to the politics of the members actions and its implications to the national politics of a new and vibrant democracy, with a need for leaders of the three branches to demonstrate a spirit of reconciliation as example for the nation.

    My comments, including the prior one and suggestion are in no way an indication of my desired outcome for the trial. I am simply responding to quotes in the story and gaps I observed.

  4. Thanks larry, very much appreciated. Though I am not a lawyer but your suggestions and points followed my thought process in relation to both houses’ rules and the constitution. Thanks again.

    My only complaint is that the Observer should not shy away from naming those legal minds quoted.

  5. One thing I do know for sure is that every actors in this case have to push a point that will slowly dragged the whole proceeding process to its grave, just like how football fan argue around here

  6. You’re welcomed J.M Gbason.
    I suggest the papers to perhaps write a brief commentary for the anonymity of sources to help readers understand the reasons. My thoughts here may not reach a larger audience, but I’ve read several comments of people raising this question on the identify of people cited in stories.

    What most people are unaware of is that journalists rely on credible sources for stories where information is not readily available in the public square. Some of the sources may be from within institutions and organizations that the stories are about or that the sources are peoples who current position or contractual obligations prevent them from speaking on the matter publicly without permission. So, the journalistic code is to protect those individuals by not exposing their identities. This is a practice, even in advanced society like the U.S. It also forces readers to focus on the truth in the facts of the story, and intent of the writer to inform, without directing attention to the sources.

    Of course, this is not in all cases. It depends on the arrangements between the sources and the papers and the story itself and the relevance to identifying the sources. For example, in this story, it’s irrelevant for me to know the lawyers cited above in determining whether their opinions are legally correct or not. I can validate that without a need for their identities. What if the Lawyer works in the Supreme Court? His opinions may raise an issue with his employment status. Or it could be a lawyer that works for a law firm that is a friend to the accused Justice or his defense lawyers, and this lawyer may differ with the law firm he works for or doesn’t want to publicly spar with friends of his who are defending the Judge. Or a high profile lawyer who feels if he identify himself, it could influence public opinion or even the opinions of individual members of the Legislature against the facts and their own judgement on the case.

    I hope this help.

  7. That’s why you have the Chief Justice presiding to ensure the process due in the Senate does not deviate from procedures. That’s probably the only time the Chief Justice will be actively involved. The House has already given the list of charges and its evidence. The accused Justice and his lawyers will need to simply make the legal and political case against conviction and/or removal. And that would require both legal strategies to address the charges from a legal perspective and then a public relations appeal to the Senate to influence their political opinions. That’s while I’m still dumbfounded over what one of the lawyers for the Judge made such an erroneous public cry to boycott the Supreme Court. Did he even run this by his colleagues and the accused Justice? He should probably step aside from the lead Attorney role and let someone else be the public face of the legal Team.

  8. As per the LIBERIAN Constitution due process applies to impeachment proceedings for BOTH Houses. Associate Justice Janneh should have been notified and called to a Hearing at the Lower House BEFORE they voted to file a Bill of Impeachment.
    Hearing by House of Representatives, Trial by Senate. Not difficult to understand.

    Difference Between Hearing and Trial
    HEARING
    Meaning: Hearing is described as a legal gathering, in the court of law, wherein the judge discusses and decides the case, in the presence of the competing parties.
    Headed by: Judge (Impeachment Proceedings in Liberia: House Committee)
    Object: To ascertain whether the charges imposed are worth pursuing or not.
    Formal: Less (than a Trial)
    Duration: Short (when compared to a Trial)

    TRIAL
    Meaning: Trial refers to the judicial proceeding in which facts and evidences are examined, to find out the guilt or innocence of the accused.
    Headed By: Judge or Jury
    Object: To identify the guilt or innocence of the accused
    Formal: Comparatively more (than a Hearing)
    Duration: Comparatively longer (than a Hearing)

    Look it up for yourselves.

    • Definition of Hearing
      In law, hearing implies the general assessment of a case by the judge, wherein preliminary decision is taken by the judge, regarding whether the case is to be pursued or not. These are oral arguments, in support of the case, to settle it or make a judgement or to decide relevant aspects of the case, to ascertain the way in which trial will proceed. It can be held for any civil, criminal or administrative proceeding.

      In a court hearing, the lawyers of both the parties, i.e. prosecution and defendant, present material, facts, information and evidence before the judge, concerning the case. After that, the judge decides whether to hold the accused or not for trial, on the basis of the evidence provided.

      Definition of Trial
      The trial can be understood as the legal proceeding in which the evidence and witnesses are legally taken on oath, and the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined. It tends to find out the cause of the incidence/offence and ends in conviction or acquittal of the inmate.

      The trial is an official hearing of a lawsuit, before a court, to verify facts and evidence and ascertain legal claims that result in the judgement, through adversary system. The adversary system relies on accusatorial method, wherein the public prosecutor accuses the other party, i.e. defendant, for committing the crime. The accused is believed as innocent unless the charges filed on him are proven beyond reasonable doubt.

  9. OPI. Nothing you posted in your above comments have any application to the impeachment proceedings and you clearly have ignored legal explanation provided in prior comments on similar questions you had raised that addressed:
    1) the meaning of due process as it relates to impeachment in contrast to a trial at court where the issue of life, liberty, safety and property are due process markers
    2) impeachment proceedings outside the Judiciary of a public official where political issues and the actions of the official outside his official duty raise questions of integrity for the official holding the office of public trust are key factors
    3) bill of impeachment as similar to an indictment in a criminal trial
    4) two methods the House could have used in its sole discretion to ascertain information before the Bill of Impeachment namely:
    a) a hearing if one third vote needed wanted more information before voting on the bill, in which case a NOTICE and HEARING would have taken place
    b) the one third vote requirement was met, so the House didn’t need to ascertain more information from the accused Justice, since it believed and voted on the accusations
    5) The trial is not at the Supreme Court, neither does the Supreme Court have jurisdiction over the trial. Actual trial is at the Senate where due process at law, not court, takes place based on the rules and procedures of the Senate:
    a) the Senate is both judge and jury
    b) the Chief Justice presides and ensures procedural due process. He follows the procedures of the Senate

    If you go back and read those comments, and not simply take general definitions off dictionaries and websites that, while correct, do not apply to the impeachment proceedings at hand.

    I’m sure for some, this is an emotional issue based on regional, tribal and other affiliation with the accused Justice. That’s one reason everyone should look at this strictly from the written law and not try to read into the law what’s not there or ignore what’s there based on personal sentiments.

    • You clearly still don’t understand or are chosing not to understand the concept of procedural due process. Not going to waste time with someone who is seemingly being willfully ignorant.

  10. We must at this point exclude the Executive branch until it is time to execute the law; remove the Justice, if he is to be impeached by the Legislative branch. Also the issue is strictly subjected to legislation under legislative function where each house exercises its own rules in subjugation. If by law, the presence of the presiding judge, is a interpreter of the law under the lawmakers rules., not with standing a guest in silence to legislative decision. It is the Legislative branch of Government that decides all impeachments equally in house power (Senate Vs House of Representative) unto separate rules of chambers. Do not reply. Strictly for the Liberian people to be told.

  11. An interpretation of the Chief Justice, meaning, as to “What the Liberian law says about impeachment” under legislative rules. The Supreme Court of Liberia has its own precedence and fosters no other nation’s law academia. The Liberian jurisprudence has its own reservoir. The Liberian Executive Branch will have nothing to do with this transaction until it is time to execute the decision reached under legislative end. Do not call me back. Let Liberians know.
    Gone to silent majority.

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