Citizens and foreign nationals attempting to seek justice may likely find it difficult to access it, because the Supreme Court has increased fees for the registration of criminal and civil cases.
The Supreme Court recently announced a new measure to raise fees to US$50 for registration of a case, which was once free, including constitutionally required cases.
Besides the US$50 registration fee, party litigants are to pay for docketing of cases, issuing a writ of summons, citation and summons for contempt, each costing US$10.
These fees, which can add up to US$90 or more, would be charged at every step of the system from the courtroom, according to the Supreme Court mandate.
That money is to be paid into the Judiciary’s accounts at commercial banks operating in the country.
What the court did not make clear is whether complainants would be charged a fee for jury trial, with each member of a 12 person jury costing US$250.
Several lawyers who spoke with the Daily Observer on condition of anonymity expressed the belief that the increased fees would cause indigents (poor people) to face either harsher treatment, or be unable to seek justice at all.
Some of the lawyers said the trend which the court took has gone too far.
“What is the intention of the Supreme Court to increase court fees?” a lawyer wondered, adding, “What are they going to use the money for? Who is going to benefit from the money, the government or the judiciary?”
“How can they arrive at the fees without first discussing the matter with members of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA)?” the legal expert rhetorically asked.
During the official opening of the October Term of the Supreme Court on Monday, October 10, LNBA President Cllr. Moose Paigar assured his audience that lawyers were engaging the justices about the increment in court fees.
“We want to use this occasion to inform our colleagues and members of the Bar that we have taken concrete steps to address the issue of the fees and payment modalities promulgated by the Supreme Court,” Cllr. Paigar said.
He continued: “This action has engendered heated discussions and mumbling among lawyers in the corridors of the various courts.”
“Specifically,” he said, his leadership has engaged the Supreme Court on the matter, which he also described as ““all important,” insisting that they were assured about a special workshop to discuss the fees and subsequently make the appropriate adjustments where necessary.
Another lawyer told this newspaper that the new fees have made it difficult for them to perform pro-bono (free) services for poor clients.
“We have to stop the pro-bono program, because we will be unable to pay those fees for our clients; therefore we cannot file their lawsuits anymore,” the legal expert said.
According to the expert, those who seek justice are mostly poor and marginalized people in society, “so where do you expect them to get that huge money to seek justice?” he asked.