When the row between the National Legislature and the Judiciary over interpretation of the Code of Conduct began, the Daily Observer was quick to suggest a prompt intervention to prevent the problem from being exacerbated. We called on all respectable Liberian institutions and the international community to intervene so as to bring the two branches of government to a cohesive understanding at this critical time of elections in our country. Our plea for intervention was predicated upon some negative consequences that could have resulted if the row had gotten out of hand. The Legislature and the Judiciary must coordinate in making and interpreting the law because without one the other cannot fully function. Both must trust each other in the execution of their respective duties to ensure stability and rule of law in our land.
As the conflict ensued and members of the House of Representatives, backed by some Senators, began the impeachment proceedings, it became fearfully evident that the country was headed toward anarchy, especially as politics intensified in this election period. Since Liberia transitioned from conflict to peace, justice has remained a serious challenge. Human rights reports and eyewitness accounts have shown judges receiving bribes and the poor denied justice. When conflict erupted over interpretation of the Code of Conduct in July, some lawyers reportedly worsened it by questioning the Supreme Court’s legal interpretation in setting free Harrison Karnwea and Jeremiah Sulunteh, vice standard-bearers of two political parties to contest the election. These instances, as we foresaw, would have caused the general public to lose confidence in our justice system, possibly leading to confusion and mob violence if the row had continued without intervention.
The justices and judges do not have constituents as the lawmakers have. Lawmakers could easily go to their constituents and politicize the issue to convince them, unlike the justices and judges who are hardly heard in public or political circles except when they render judgments in cases. If the conflict continued, we feared that justices and judges would have lost public respect and perhaps even threatened. This could undermine peace and the transition of power in this contentious election that every presidential candidate is fighting to win. What would happen if the need arose for the Supreme Court to decide an electoral conflict? In this case, perhaps only the Liberty Party (LP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC) would have respected the decision of the Supreme Court since such decision arising from interpreting the Code of Conduct was in their interest. A very serious conflict would have then emerged.
We laud the Inter-Religious Council, the Christian Council of Liberia and the Council of Chiefs and Elders for their intervention to resolve the conflict that was brewing. We also wish to commend the National Legislature for its high degree of maturity exercised to put stability of the country first. Article 43 of the Liberian Constitution gives power to the House of Representatives to prepare an impeachment bill, and the Senate the power to try all impeachments. Article 71 also says that “The Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”
Assuming that there were tangible reasons backing their action to impeach the three Associate Justices, Philip A. Z. Banks, Jamesetta Howard-Wolokollie and Kabineh Ja’neh, we see the Legislature’s decision to drop the impeachment proceeding as a way forward to sustain and maintain our peace and democracy, considering the adverse consequences impeachment would have wrought. We hope both branches will make their functions clear, so that each branch would not be seen as interfering with the function of the other. The Legislature contended during the conflict that the Supreme Court was trying to turn into a lawmaker and at the same time an interpreter. With such a concern making people to believe that one branch was overlapping the functions of the other, it is better for the two branches, and even all three branches, to engage in a retreat to acquaint one another with their respective functions in order to avoid such a conflict from recurring.
We, therefore, commend the Legislature for reconsidering its decision to drop the impeachment proceeding.