The decision of Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh last week to stay the impeachment process of her colleague Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, until the Supreme Court can fully review its merit has invoked rash criticism from some lawyers and the public alike.
And as of today (Monday, August 13), it remains unclear whether the lawmakers would abide by Justice Yuoh’s orders to stay impeachment proceedings. Justice Yuoh currently serves as Justice-in-Chambers of the Supreme Court.
On July 17, 2018, a petition signed by the acting chairman of the CDC in the House of Representatives for Montserrado County, Rep. Thomas P. Fallah of District #5, and Rep. Acarous Gray of District #8, a staunch member of the CDC, called for Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment.
The pair argued that Ja’neh should be impeached, ousted and removed from the Supreme Court of Liberia on grounds of “proven misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion, fraud, misuse of power and corruption.”
However, a Supreme Court lawyer (name withheld), said Justice Yuoh’s action was premature and it compromises the integrity of the Court.
“Justice Yuoh should not have issued that writ because it now puts the Court in an embarrassing situation were the matter has yet to proceed to the House of Senate for hearing,” the senior lawyer claimed.
The lawyer also argued that Yuoh’s decision would affect Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and the entire Bench, were the House of Representatives to go ahead with Ja’neh’s impeachment proceedings as stipulated in Article 43 of the Constitution.
Article 43 provides that “the power to prepare a bill of impeachment is vested solely in the House of Representatives, and the power to try all impeachments is vested solely in the Senate. When the President, Vice President or an Associate Justice is to be tried, the Chief Justice shall preside; when the Chief Justice or a judge of a subordinate court of record is to be tried, the President of the Senate shall preside. No person shall be impeached but by the concurrence of two-thirds of the total membership of the Senate. Judgments in such cases shall not extend beyond removal from office and disqualification to hold public office in the Republic; but the party may be tried at law for the same offense. The Legislature shall prescribe the procedure for impeachment proceedings which shall be in conformity with the requirements of due process of law.”
“Look, you can see where Justice Yuoh’s decision has placed the Chief Justice, if the matter were to go to the House of Senate for hearing. What do you think, would be the Chief Justice’s role?” The lawyer asked.
“Where is the constitutional violation against Ja’neh? Has Ja’neh ever been invited by the House to begin with his impeachment hearing? Have the lawmakers even adopted rules and procedures to proceed with Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment, because these are marks of constitutional violation,” the lawyer argued.
According to the lawyer, the lawmakers have not violated the rights of Justice Ja’neh, hence, no reason therefore for the issuance of a “stay order”.
He explained that Article 43 gives the House of Representatives the sole right to prepare a bill of impeachment.
“They were performing their legislative mandate and nobody, even the Supreme Court, should interfere,” he explained.
The lawyer argued that the Bill of Impeachment was still with the Special Ad Hoc Committee set-up by House Speaker Bhofal Chambers to advise them as to whether there was a need for them to proceed with Ja’neh’s impeachment.
“So, now where is the Constitutional violation Yuoh is talking about? The lawyer wondered, “There is no Constitutional violation for the issuance of the writ.”
Justice Ja’neh’s argument was that the lawmakers were in complete violation of Articles 20 (a), 71 and 73 of the 1986 Constitution, although he agreed that the same Constitution confers jurisdiction on the House of Representatives to initiate impeachment proceedings.
Article 71 states the grounds for impeachments of judges of the Supreme Court and subordinate judges: “proven misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery and other infamous crimes”.
Article 73 grants all judicial officials immunity from being “summoned, arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried civilly or criminally… 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 a breach of peace”.
Justice Ja’neh also argued that House Speaker Bhofal Chambers violated Section 57.3 of the Rules and Procedures of the House of Representatives by constituting a Special Ad Hoc Committee and immediately forwarded Ja’neh’s impeachment bill to the committee.
That section, Ja’neh argued confers exclusive jurisdiction on the House’s Committee on the Judiciary to hear, among other things, all matters relating to judicial proceedings, civil and criminal.
“It does not vest any authority in the Speaker to remove and unilaterally transfer same to a Special Committee as he did,” Cllr. Johnson argued.
Article 20 (a) states that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with the provisions laid down in this Constitution and in accordance with due process of law. Justice shall be done without sale, denial or delay; and in all cases not arising in courts not of record, under courts-martial and upon impeachment, the parties shall have the right to trial by jury.”