Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, the Justice in Chamber of the Supreme Court, yesterday placed a stay order on an attempt by some legislators to have him and two other justices, Kabineh M. Ja’neh and Jamesetta Howard Wolokollie, impeached.
Justice Banks took the action immediately after he received a request for a Writ of Prohibition filed to him by the Justice and Peace Interest Consortium (JUPICA) and Cllr. Edwin Kla Martin, a candidate for the House of Representatives for District#3 in Maryland County. It was based upon that request that Justice Banks placed the stay order on the impeachment proceedings.
In his communication to the House, Justice Banks said, “The Respondents (Lawmakers) should stay all further proceedings in the matter of the Petition for Impeachment; and all parties are ordered returned to status quo ante pending the disposition of the Writ of Prohibition.” The parties are expected to appear before Justice Banks on Saturday, August 12, by 9 a.m.
In their complaint, the law firm argued that the involvement of some members of the Senate, who are supposed to be the jury in any impeachment proceedings, to the signing of a purported document, and to concur, renders the process void and of no legal effect. They further argued that the action by the plenary of the House and its Judicial Committee seeks to reduce the status of the Judiciary, headed by the Supreme Court, as one of the co-equal branches of the three-branched-government to a subordinate department of legislature, an act prohibited by the constitution. Their lawsuit also argued that the Supreme Court is the sole body to determine the constitutionality of any act or other actions by any of the other branches of the government.
According to lawsuit, any attempt to subvert the constitution, and to place the pending elections, only two months away, into chaos and limbo, by stepping in the way of the Supreme Court’s mandate to review or address grievances growing out of said elections, are acts that are tantamount to treason against the nation, for which the perpetrators can be criminally prosecuted. They also argued that the action violates the very core value of fair and impartial trial, “that as a matter of the constitution that instructs that no justice of the Supreme Court is answerable to any member of the legislature or to that body for any decision or judgment rendered unanimously by a majority of the court between two contending partiers, which decision becomes the law of the land, the same as any act passed by the legislature.”
They argued that their position is premised on Article 73 of the Liberian Constitution (1986) which provides: “No judicial officer shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally by or at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace.”
It also notes that statements made or acts done by such officials, in the course of a judicial proceeding, shall be privileged, and subject to the above qualification, adding
“no such statements made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial or proceeding.”
The lawsuit also claimed that under the Constitution of Liberia (1986), Article 66, the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all disputes and hence any attempt by any person or institution, including any of the other branches of the Government to review the final decision or judgment of the Supreme Court, as is being attempted by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives and the Plenary of the House of Representatives, is not only unconstitutional but an attempt to circumvent the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
The lawmakers are yet to respond to the law firm’s lawsuit.