He Who Comes to Equity Must Do So With Clean Hands

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He who comes to equity must do so with clean hands is a legal maxim that was developed in the middle ages (England) from the courts of chancery. This maxim is a rule of law that someone bringing a lawsuit against another person and asking the court for equitable relief must be innocent of wrongdoing or unfair conduct relating to the subject matter of his/her claim. It is an affirmative defense that the defendant may claim the plaintiff has “unclean hands“.

In other words, it means that he who has committed an iniquitous act shall not have equity. The maxim bars relief for anyone guilty of improper conduct in the matter at hand and its primary purpose is to protect the integrity of the court. The “Clean Hands” doctrine, according to legal experts, is an equitable defense in which the defendant argues that the plaintiff is not entitled to obtain an equitable remedy because the plaintiff is acting unethically or has acted in bad faith with respect to the subject of the complaint.

This newspaper has gone to such lengths to provide some insight into a matter which touches on the very existence of a free and unfettered press in Liberia. There have been a number of cases in Liberian legal history in which this maxim fully applies but owing to political and other special interests, the courts over the years have been coerced under immense pressure to trash this legal maxim.

As regards the media, this newspaper can recall from recent history several examples of where some individuals have taken journalists or media institutions to court all in a bid to prevent free expression and even more so, to prevent exposure to the public information concerning unwholesome activities of such individuals.

This newspaper for instance recalls the case of Stephen Tolbert vs Albert Porte in 1974 in which veteran journalist and pamphleteer, Albert Porte was sued for libel by Finance Minister, Stephen Tolbert brother of President Tolbert. Mr. Tolbert claimed that Porte’s article “Liberianization or Gobbling Business” defamed him and cast his character into disrepute and for that he sought relief from the Court to the tone of 1m US dollars. Porte was found guilty by the lower court but he appealed to the Supreme Court but before the court could hear the matter, Mr. Tolbert died in a plane crash of the shores of Greenville, Sinoe County.

This newspaper also recalls the situation involving President Sirleaf and newly convicted criminal Thomas Woewiyu who incurred her wrath when he published an open letter to her calling on her to apologize for her alleged wartime activities and the deaths of Jackson Doe and others at the hands of Charles Taylor during the early stages of the Liberian civil war. President Sirleaf threatened a lawsuit against Woewiyu but subsequently declined to actualize her threat.

Perhaps the most memorable of these was that involving former Agriculture Minister Dr. Chris Toe and FrontPage Africa publisher Rodney Sieh who spent jail time for publishing a story about the Minister’s involvement in the army worm invasion in Bong county in which thousands of dollars intended to fight the menace were said to have been misappropriated under the watch of the Minister. He took exception and filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Publisher Sieh.

And now enters former and current legislators who have filed a criminal libel suit against Hot Pepper publisher Philbert Brown for the story he published on the alleged complicity of some former and current lawmakers who, according to the story, accepted bribes from former President Sirleaf to print excess amount of Liberian dollar banknotes.

This newspaper is troubled by the fact that some legislators behind the lawsuit against journalist Brown have been reported to be involved in unwholesome activities such as illegally changing or amending the budget law. Representative Jeremiah Koung for example was recently reported to be one of those lawmakers involved in the illegal changes to the budget law by illegally allocating thousands of U.S. dollars to his wife’s private hospital in Ganta city, Nimba County.

In another instance House Speaker Bhofal Chambers was linked to the illegal diversion of funds to the St. Francis Health Center in Pleebo to the tone of over half a million U.S. dollars after the original budget had been passed into law. And the list goes on. Additionally, the illegal passage into law of over 50 bogus concession agreements by our lawmakers undermines whatever pretensions to integrity they regularly flaunt in the faces of the public.

While this newspaper refrains from commenting on the legal merits or demerits of the case filed against journalist Brown by these legislators, it feels however constrained to remind our legislators that public opinion is not in their favor or on their side. From all indications, it appears that this is just another attempt to silence the Liberian media or cow it into submission.

In view of this, it becomes compelling, in the view of this newspaper, to remind our legislators of the legal maxim that he come to equity must do so with clean hands. In their strive to exact their pound of flesh from journalist Brown, they should remain wary of the implications such an adventure could engender which may not augur well for their political future and fortunes.

As a last word, the Liberian media shall never be cowed into submission. Several Liberian leaders before have tried but failed and there is very little likelihood that a small group of lawmakers, former and present will succeed this time around.

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