As part of efforts to strengthen emergency measures in response to the growing coronavirus crisis, the Supreme Court of Liberia on Monday, March 23, began to restrict the number of cases heard daily and crowding of courtrooms as news emerged about the third confirmed Coronavirus (first community transmission) patient in the country.
A statement issued on Monday, March 23 by the Judiciary Public Information office effected a temporary scaling down of the workforce of courts throughout the country and also closed down classes at the Professional Magistrate Training Program (PMTP-4) at the James A.A. Pierre Judicial Institute.
The release further instructed that each subordinate court is required to have a maximum of five support staff, a clerk-typist, filing clerk, bailiff, and sheriff during the working period. However, the restriction does not include the court’s security and maintenance workers.
An earlier announcement by the Ministry of Health and the National Public Health Institute of Liberia (NPHIL) on March 21 said the discovery of Liberia’s third confirmed Coronavirus case (first ‘community transmission’) has put the nation in an intense crisis mode, with this latest confirmed case having come in contact with close to 200 possible persons. And, with the source of this third case infection yet unknown the government has declared the outbreak as a “national public health emergency.”
Both institutions further instituted more stringent measures to contain further spread of the infectious and deadly disease.
Some of the critical steps taken indicate that the Supreme Court will only allow five counselors (lawyers) to appear before the justices to argue their cases. “The court will concentrate more at this time on writing opinions on cases already heard,” the statement noted.
It further said circuit court judges are to encourage party litigants to choose bench trials instead of jury trials. The release, however, said where party litigant insists on his or her right to trial by jury, then, the judge must suspend the hearing of the said matter, pending the improvement of the health situation in the country.
In a bench trial, there is no jury and the judge decides the case, while, a jury trial is a trial before jurors of 6 or 12 people who, after hearing the evidence and legal arguments, decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.
“All circuit and magisterial court judges are to assign no more than two (2) cases each day for trial, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon,” the restriction said, adding, “only party litigants and their lawyers are permitted to attend a court hearing, and the public is asked to stay away to avoid overcrowding.”
The restriction concluded,” During the period, normal court activities throughout the country will be closed at 3: PM from Monday to Friday pending further notice.”