By Abednego Davis
The acting head of the Swedish Mission in Liberia last Friday has said that, in order to sustain peace in Liberia, Liberians should first build trust.
Serving as keynote speaker at the graduation of sixty (60) professional magistrates from the James A. A. Pierre Judicial Institute at the Temple of Justice, Ambassador Yaser Abd EL Hamid said although Sweden is here to help sustain peace, said trust can only be built if lawyers and judges abide by the constitution and uphold their ethics.
“Trust is built when you allow dialogue with the people you serve, when you are transparent and open, and when corruption-free access to justice is realized,” the envoy emphasized.
To the new magistrates, Hamid said Sweden would like to see a trustworthy justice service delivery for all Liberians, “delivered by you in your role as magistrates.”
“I call on each of you graduates to pledge to yourself to ensure that no one is above the law and that you will always work for fairness and integrity in the justice system,” he said.
“When you live up to this pledge in your professional life as a magistrate, the Liberian people will trust the justice system and you will have contributed to sustainable peace in your country.”
As magistrates, the envoy said, their crucial role is to bring equal justice to all Liberians because some groups are not given equal access to justice, citing women and children.
Hamid said although the Liberian Constitution provides that all persons, irrespective of ethnic background, race, gender, religion, place of origin and political opinion are entitled to their fundamental rights and freedom, “violence against women and children often go unpunished.”
“You as magistrates have a crucial role to play in Liberia. You must show that domestic violence will be penalized,” Hamid stressed. “Even the private sphere is under your jurisdiction. When you provide services to your fellow Liberians, corruption, even when it is committed by a powerful actor in society, will also be punished.”
Hamid disclosed that Sweden is the largest donor to the Justice and Security Trust Funds of the UNDP.
Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and Waldemar Vrey, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) for Political and Rule of Law of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) were among several personalities that acknowledged Sweden’s continuous assistance to Liberia’s justice reform process.
The Chief Justice said the professional magistrates training program is to ensure that qualified people take charge of and conduct the affairs of courts in the country.
“It is no secret that the magisterial courts face the challenge of low capacity personnel, including those who preside over these courts,” the Chief Justice admitted.
The magisterial courts, Korkpor noted, are the entry points into the justice system.
He disclosed that during the warring years many untrained people entered the judicial service, especially at the level of the magisterial courts.
“To date, our assessment report revealed that less than 15 percent of approximately 350 stipendiary magistrates in our country have law degrees,” he stated. “This is coupled with the fact that a significant number of stipendiary and associate magistrates have reached or are nearing the statutory retirement age.”
Korkpor also said there can be no dispute that the limitation of well functional magisterial courts in any jurisdiction “undermines the mandate of the judiciary and by extension, the rule of law.”
For his part, Vrey said the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions, and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable; that it is publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated and “are consistent with international human rights norms and standard.”
The DSRSG noted that the tenets of rule of law cannot be sustained without a functional judiciary and without well trained and knowledgeable judges and magistrates.
Since its establishment in 2008, last Friday’s ceremony was the second cycle of the Professional Magistrate Training Program (PMTP).