Never before in the history of this country since the last 15 years, according to some experienced lawyers, has public confidence in the Liberian Judiciary sunken so low i.e., its Criminal Justice System, the administration of justice and the rule of law.
This is very troubling because the reconstitution of the Liberian Judiciary as part of the 2003 Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement was intended to foster reconciliation through the administration of unadulterated and unfettered justice to all without fear, favor or deference to any person or authority.
But almost seventeen (17) years later, questions are being asked whether the intended changes envisioned at the time as necessary to preserve the peace, foster reconciliation, promote accountability and the rule of law and thereby enhancing the consolidation of peace in Liberia.
These questions are rightly being asked because under the watch of Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, public confidence in the Judiciary has eroded so much that the rule of law and respect for the rule of law have become dangerously threatened owing mainly to the official misconduct of judicial officials.
According to US State Department Human Rights reports judges have received bribes routinely and who have virtually put justice on sale and or have been wiling subjects to political interference.
Judicial officials, including Judges who have been found guilty of breaches of Judicial Canons or of the law are known to have been recycled back into the system and are performing as though nothing ever did happen. Judge J. Vinton Holder was suspended, stripped of his salary and allowances for a period of one year but was subsequently reinstated as a Judge by the very Supreme Court that suspended him for impropriety.
Also is the case of disgraced Judge Richard Klah of the Commercial Court who was found guilty of extortion and bribery by the Judicial Inquiry Commission. The disgraced Judge (now resigned) had demanded bribes from a party litigant who had sued to recover money owed him by a local businessman.
Further, during the 2017 Presidential elections, the integrity of the Court was put to a severe test; it failed miserably in the eyes of the Liberian people. It is because the Court failed to punish/reprimand NEC Chairman Jerome Korkoyah for failing to obey the Supreme Court’s mandate to clean-up the Voters Roll/Registry before the conduct of the elections, an act which nearly plunged the country into renewed violent conflict.
In the wake of the elections, yet another test to the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court Bench emerged with trumped-up charges against Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh by Representative Acarous Gray. The manner in which the impeachment proceedings (considered a virtual sham by legal experts) were handled raised eyebrows.
For example, the refusal of Chief Justice Korkpor to recuse himself from presiding over the impeachment trial and the subsequent guilty verdict left the public with a distinct impression that Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and perhaps the entire Supreme Court Bench had been compromised. And that impression appears not to have gone away since.
But, the ready scapegoats have been the media, which the Chief Justice and his colleagues including judges of lower Courts have so often chastised for its reportage and coverage on developments in the judiciary. But the Judiciary needs to look at itself in the mirror and see that those causing most harm to the image of the Judiciary are Judicial officials themselves.
Some experienced lawyers whose views were solicited by the Daily Observer expressed the opinion that the problem in the Judiciary stems from its head who, as the Constitution requires, is appointed by the President.
In theory, but not in practice, the three branches of government, the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature are separate, distinct, coordinate, but coequal branches of government. The Executive holds sway — immense sway.
Legal analysts (names withheld), for example, hold the view that the impeachment of Associate Justice Ja’neh under the gavel of Chief Justice Korkpor, who had refused to recuse himself, constituted a grave miscarriage of justice that served to further erode the image of the nation’s judiciary and portray him as a cringing, servile character ever ready to obey presidential diktat.
The impotence displayed by the Court in its failure to reprimand the NEC Chairman, Jerome Korkoyah when he flouted its mandate to clean the compromised Voters Roll before holding the run-off Presidential election in 2017, has now returned to haunt the Court.
The Collaborating Political Parties according to confirmed reports have applied to the Court for a Writ of Mandamus seeking to compel the NEC to clean-up the Voters Roll before the conduct of the proposed December 8 senatorial elections, national referendum and legislative by-elections.
From all indications, this is by no means a task which can be accomplished before the elections date. Additionally, confirmation by the NEC Chairman that some mobile teams had not reached their destination due to logistical problems and bad road conditions, suggest that voters in Sinoe, River Gee, River Cess, Grand Kru and Maryland Counties may find themselves disenfranchised.
Just how the Court is going to respond to the application filed by the CPP for a Writ of Mandamus remains to be seen. But legal analysts (names withheld) have told this newspaper that this can be determined from the outcomes of the Nwabuidike’s challenge to the Liberia National Bar Association’s (LNBA) decision to expel him from its membership.
That Nwabuidike appears to be a sacred cow is by no means a mistaken public impression because, according to political observers, he continues to enjoy the confidence of President Weah, never mind his shady character and that is why he has not since been relieved of his position as Chairman of the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission.
And, according to political observers, the rising tide of public opinion appears to suggest that the Supreme Court will simply look the other way as it reportedly did in 2017 with the excuse that the magnitude of fraud committed in those elections were not sufficient to warrant an overturn of the elections results although it was clear that NEC had facilitated fraud by its blatant refusal to clean-up the Voters Roll.
Will History repeat itself? Only time will tell and that may not be long in coming.