The Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) has said that it objects to and frowns on the attempt by the House of Representatives to impeach three of the five Justices for reasons not supported by the Constitution of Liberia.
“The timing of the unconstitutional and illegal action by the House of Representatives to impeach Associate Justices is particularly troubling given the pivotal role of the Supreme Court in the resolution of disputes which may arise (more certainly than not) from the October 2017 Presidential and Legislative elections,” Cllr. Moses Paegar, president of the LNBA, stated at a press conference held at the LNBA headquarters in Monrovia.
Some lawmakers recently submitted a petition for the impeachment of Associate Justices Kabineh Ja’neh, Jamesetta Wolokollie and Philip Banks, lll. “The LNBA is therefore calling on the petitioners to withdraw their impeachment petition, thus ensuring and confirming the supremacy of our 1986 Constitution,” Cllr. Paegar said.
The LNBA said although Chief Justice Francis Korkpor also signed the July 20 judgment along with Justices Ja’neh, Wolokollie and Banks, the petition singled out Justices Ja’neh, Wolokolie, and Banks for impeachment. “This clearly demonstrates that the petition is not based on any alleged constitutional violation, but it is patently discriminatory, politically motivated, arbitrary, capricious, and based on personal biases against the three Associate Justices,” the LNBA President argued.
According to Paegar, the Bar considers with consternation the impeachment petition which, as already indicated, has absolutely no legal or constitutional basis, as a deliberate and calculated attempt to intimidate and hamstring Justices of the Supreme Court and other judges of subordinate courts in the performance of their duties.
“This is also clearly unconstitutional because it undermines the independence of the Judiciary in a blatant violation of the 1986 Liberian Constitution,” Paegar noted, adding that in the exercise of their judicial functions, it is unconstitutional for Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts to be subjected to threats of impeachment because of disagreements with their opinions, judgments or other actions.
This, the LNBA said, is precisely what the impeachment petition seeks to accomplish, in clear violation of Article 73 of the Constitution, which provides that “No judicial official shall be summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally 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 a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace.
Statements made and acts done by such official in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged, and, subject to the above qualification, no such statements made or acts done shall be admissible into evidence against them at any trial or proceeding.”
To ensure the independence of the Judiciary, and to insulate Justices and Judges from the day-to-day political pressure from the other branches of government, Article 71 of the Constitution mandates specific objectives, legal and constitutional standards for their removal, such as: “…..conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.” The petitioners’ reliance on the other constitutional standards of “…proved misconduct, gross breach of duty [or] inability to perform the functions of their office…” for impeachment without more, is clearly misplaced and inapplicable.
The LNBA said disagreement with a decision of the court clearly does not amount to ‘proved misconduct, gross breach of duty or inability of the Justices to perform the functions of their office as contemplated by the Constitution. The LNBA also said an alleged inconsistent judicial ruling does not meet the high constitutional standard of “…proved misconduct, gross breach of duty or inability of the Justices to perform the functions of their office.”
An indispensable requisite of this path to peace and reconciliation is for all to respect the independence of the three branches of Government as our Constitution mandates, he said.
Paegar said the independence of the Judiciary can only be maintained if the Justices and Judges are able to perform and discharge their judicial functions and responsibilities free of interference and intimidation from the other two branches of government. “They will not be able to carry out their constitutional duties and responsibilities if they are constantly under threats of impeachment for political and other personal reasons from members of the Legislature,” he observed.
“Our duty as lawyers and members of Bar is to ensure that we protect the continuity and enjoyment of our hard-won and infant constitutional democracy. Law is essential for the preservation of our freedoms, rights, and democracy and the Bar has a duty to ensure that the law reigns supreme at all times and on every issue in Liberia,” the LNBA said.
It is not the first time that the House of Representatives has acted unconstitutionally, according to the LNBA. “The Bar recalls in 2001, the House of Representatives arrested and detained Counselor J. Emmanuel Wureh (deceased), then President of the LNBA, on trumped up contempt charges while he was serving as counsel for former Speaker Nyundueh Monkormana.” This led to the House of Representatives citing Counselor Marcus Jones, then Vice President of the LNBA, and Counselor Ishmael Campbell (deceased), then President of the Montserrado County Bar, to appear before the House to show cause why they should not be held in contempt for their failure to retract a statement issued condemning Counselor Wureh’s detention.
When Counselors Jones and Campbell appeared before the House in response to the citation, they were ordered to retract the statement, pay a fine or be imprisoned for the duration of the Legislative session. When they refused to do so, they were ordered detained at the Monrovia Central Prison. In response to the imprisonment, the LNBA boycotted all judicial, quasi-judicial and administrative proceedings until and unless Counselors Jones and Campbell were released.
The current impeachment petition against the three Associate Justices alleged that the court’s rulings in the Abu Kamara and Harrison A. Karnwea cases, both of which relate to the judicial interpretation of the Code of Conduct, were inconsistent. The relevant provision of the Code of Conduct is Part 5 Section 5.2, which requires presidential appointees desirous of contesting for elective offices to resign at least two years prior to the elections and three years for those holding tenured positions.
In the Abu Kamara case, the Supreme Court ruled that Kamara was in violation of the Code of Conduct because he continued to occupy the position of Assistant Minister when he applied to the National Elections Commission (NEC) for certification to contest for a Representative seat in the October polls. Because the court considered this conduct an ‘egregious’ violation of the Code of Conduct, it ruled that Kamara be disqualified from being a candidate.
In the Karnwea case, he resigned as managing director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) on March 17, although it was far less than the two years required by the Code of Conduct. Additionally, he made a statement at a February 14 press conference that the Liberty Party was the best option for the Liberian people. He made these statements while he was still serving as managing director of the FDA. The Supreme Court ruled that although Mr. Karnwea’s failure to resign prior to the two years was a violation of the Code of Conduct, the court determined that because he had resigned his managing director position prior to his application to the NEC, his conduct was not egregious in nature but rather was in substantial compliance with Section 5.2 of the Code of Conduct.
The petitioners claimed that the July 20 judgment in the Karnwea case was tantamount to usurpation by the Supreme Court of the functions and powers of the Legislature to make laws. They also claimed that the ‘egregious’ standard applied by the court in its decision to reverse the NEC’s decision, which had earlier disqualified Mr. Karnwea for failing to resign two years prior to the election, amounts to lawmaking.
According to the petition, the court’s ruling and judgment constituted “…misconduct, gross breach of duty and clear inability to perform the functions of the office of Associate Justices of the Supreme Court…”