Supreme Court, Defend Your Integrity

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Since March 3 this year, the public has been suspicious of the working of the highest court, the Supreme Court. Constitutionally clothed with the power as the final arbiter of justice and the only interpreter of the Constitution, the Supreme Court on March 3, 2017 came down with ruling in the controversial Code of Conduct making it constitutional. Upon making the pronouncement, many people who may fear the political potential of others in the ensuing election gladly welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision; contending that the law be upheld up to the letter.  On the other hand, those who believe the CoC was meant to target them from contesting election turned furious and discredited the decision.

The decision of the Supreme Court to declare the CoC constitutional coincided with the choosing of former Managing Director of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Harrison Karnwea, and former Liberian Ambassador to the United States, Jeremiah Slunteh as vice running mates for the Liberty Party (LP) and the Alternative National Congress (ANC), respectively.  Again, public perception grew that selection of these former officials would yield fruitless for the concerned political parties because they did not resign from their respective positions two or three years ahead of election as required in the Code of Conduct.  Public concerns from all points simply indicate that they have vested interest in the working of the law and interpretation by the Supreme Court.

The National Elections Commission (NEC), having assured the public of adhering to ruling by the Supreme Court on the Code of Conduct, disqualified Harrison Karnwea, Jeremiah Slunteh and Abu Kamara on ground that they were in violation of the Code of Conduct.  NEC’s decision to disqualify these men was challenged in the Supreme Court, and as the perception has been, many thought Karnwea and Slunteh were in violation of the law and therefore the court would rule against them.  Except for Abu Kamara who was disqualified for remaining in appointed position to declare his intention to contest an elective position, Karnwea and Slunteh were given green light by the Supreme Court on ground that they were not in serious violation to be disqualified, but NEC should design penalties for them.  Ruling in Karnwea’s case, Justice Philip A.Z. Banks said, “He was in substantial compliance with the code and that his violation of the act was not egregious in nature.”

Following the ruling, there has been public outcry that the court is biased while members of the Liberty Party and Alternative National Congress rejoice.  The ruling has also sparked up a planned impeachment proceeding by the National Legislature to impeach the Chief Justice and Associate Justices.  At the same time, the Supreme Court is warning lawyers that any of them caught inciting the public against the court would be seriously dealt with.

These instances are cited to draw attention to the critical role the Supreme Court has to play in our electoral process and public perceptions about it as a final decision maker in constitutional matters.  Liberians over the time have always demonstrated respect for the Supreme Court and rule of law, and any act to thwart public trust will lead to disrespect for the high court.  If not the first in Liberian History, this is the first time the National Legislature has planned making use of provision in the 1986 Constitution to impeach the Chief Justice and the Associates Justices.  Moreover, despite reports of corrupt practices in courts across the country, there has been no day ordinary people will criticize or say anything that will ridicule the Supreme Court.

Now that such unusual talks and perceptions are arising at this critical time of election in our country, we feel it is about time that the high court manages its reputation and integrity to continually be seen as an impartial and independent body with no stake in politics.  We are not assuming that the court has a political interest; nevertheless, we are concerned that any interpretation by the Supreme Court at this time of politics on a crowded political field can be translated by the very people in diverse views.  For instance, there is currently no doubt that those who want the Code of Conduct to be upheld to the letter are uncertain about the Supreme Court rendering independent judgment in case something goes wrong in the electoral process.  It is currently speculated that some wealthy politicians have infiltrated the independence of the Supreme Court using cash to evade the Code of Conduct.  In such state of growing confusion, let the Supreme Court clearly explain what it meant that Harrison Karnwea and Jeremiah Slunteh were in substantial compliance with the CoC, and how egregious it should be in order for an aspirant to be disqualified when he/she violates the CoC.  The Supreme Court also needs to clearly state the degree of offense Slunteh and Karnwea committed for which NEC is ordered to prescribe punishment for them in 48 hours.

With clear explanation on these major decisions in this crucial transitional politics season, the Supreme Court will be building trust in the people to be conscientious of its integrity.  However, any shortcoming will cause people to lose confidence in the High Court’s integrity and independence, and the peace we have built for more than ten years will be grossly undermined.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Perceptions about this Supreme Court are definitely as dismaying as that of the Executive and Legislature. To pretend otherwise may be considered insensitive by the powerless victims of synchronized treachery and betrayal.

    So with the nation’s wealth plus unaccountable power hugged tightly by the triad, and compounded by the availability of Praetorian Guards to protect them from the suffering vast majority, they really don’t give a damn. Put another way, preoccupation with “integrity” is the least on the minds of rich overconfident cynical justices.

    That type of mindset at the first line of defense of our emerging democracy drives arbitrary rule, abuse of power, misuse of office, unaccountability, and runaway corruption: All barriers to societal harmony. Notwithstanding, some of the best and brightest among us are panting to preach and celebrate peace. And when given free advice about how illusionary such endeavors are under the prevailing untoward circumstances, the concerned conveyors of such warnings are stereotyped as sinister scaremongers, or, worse, warmongers.

    Which brings to mind the same costly deafness and blindnes of the British powerstructure before the last world war, 1939 – 1945.

    After the blood bath of WW I, Winston Churchill – then not a Prime minister yet – agonized that the terms of the Versailles Treaty imposed by the victorious allies on vanquished Germany in 1919 would be received with ill – will, and thus provoke a longing for revenge. But not many paid him any mind in Britain. Moreover, when he learned by 1935 that former Corporal Hitler, now an elected messianic Chancellor, was hurriedly rearming Germany in violation of all treaties, and warned Britain’s ruling politicians to prepare for another war, not many paid him any mind, either.

    Similarly, wrong or right, perceptions are that Ellen and her self – entitled entourage would lead Liberia to a lagoon of sorrows again, if not, ironically, legally stopped. And relying on this Supreme Court to restrain her, now you know the outlook in our country is really bleak. God save Liberia!

  2. Let them slumber into the delusion that the Liberian people do not know WHEN OR IN WHICH CASES the doctrine of due process MUST be applied. Probably because not one of them ever SERVED within the capacity of a judge prior to appointment on the Supreme Court’s Bench, they believe because a judge is in a position to define the issues and even shape and manipulate their contents, such luck does not run out in certain cases.

  3. Joaquin, one can only defend that which he or she possesses. These justices of the Supreme Court simply HAVE NO INTEGRITY!

    Take for example their intentional misrepresentations of the doctrines of “due process,” and “substantial compliance” they are laughably fumbling with here to justify their intentional bad behavior and misconduct of “going back” on their ruling that “eligibility requirements for electoral candidates set by the Legislature are constitutional.”

    1. Substantial compliance CANNOT BE PLEADED if a clear statutory prerequisite which effectuates the object and purpose of the statute (sections 5.1& 5.2) of the CoC has not been met. Karnwea and Sulonteh in bad faith and deliberate conduct did not only refuse to comply with the prior three or even two years resignation requirement, but disrespected the statute ipso facto their silly argument that they “did not have the DESIRE to become running mate.”

    2. Even if the Supreme Court’s argument about “due process” could arguendo be entertained, that should not automatically clear Karnwea, Sulonteh, Jones, etc. for the doctrine of due process IS ONLY A MUST in criminal proceedings and not in civil proceedings! If this were not the case neither eligibility requirements in general, nor the worldwide doctrine of AUTOMATIC LOSS OF CITIZENSHIP, OR THE IMPOUNDING OF PROPERTIES, and many other law enforcements, would be constitutional within the comity and community of nations across the globe!!!

    So, Joaquin, while we like to lift up our hat to you for your powerful editorial which reminds us of the late Stanton Peabody’s editorials, we must tell you and the world that one only defends that which he or she owns. In short, the Korkpor Bench have proven to have no integrity to defend after “going back on their word” that “eligibility requirements set by the legislature is constitutional.”

  4. And one of the Supreme Court’s most impartial, prejudicial, and arbitrary, conducts is the court having absolutely no regard for the intent of the statute nor the “GOOD FAITH” required element and principle of “substantial compliance” which is the sine qua non and basis of invoking the doctrine of “substantial compliance”

    And then worst also, abusing the Court’s power by ordering the NEC to accept and clear candidates who deliberately disrespected and violated the law and are not eligible for qualification to run in the elections in October 2017.

  5. Mr. Zoedjallah,

    We are in agreement with your take

    Simply put, justices should Carry out the law, not Change, or Enable others to Break it. Granted that talk of impeachment is premature in these anxious times; ref the CoC, this Supreme Court sacrificed the concept of rule of law on the altar of a presidential agenda.

    The irony is that these folks are put on the pedestal for their impartiality, and so – called independence from partisan fray!

  6. Mr. Moses,

    That is the point!: JUSTICES aiding and abetting violators of the law, and furtively trying to use as defenses, and justifications, doctrines (substantial compliance, and due process)they seem to have only elementary knowledge and understanding about, or probably trying to mislead an unsuspecting public!

    No wonder they have the nerve to send out their very stupid threats intended to cover their misconduct and BAD BEHAVIOR.

    The Supreme Court has been reduced to a mere law firm owned by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. These guys have brought a DISREPUTE to the Supreme Court which is, I must confess, psychologically torturing!

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