The Liberian Judiciary is indeed in deep crisis as many Liberians are aware and as suggested by reports from various national and international human rights organizations including Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Committee for the Protection of journalists (CPJ) The Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG), US State Department Human Rights Report etc.
According to those reports, bribery of judicial officials including judges, jurors and lawyers, non-independence of the judiciary and political interference with the judiciary are widespread. The reports claim that justice in Liberia is for sale, meaning in effect that without money one cannot expect justice in the courts.
It can be recalled that the Daily Observer in its April 18, 2016 edition carried a front page story headlined “Liberia’s Judiciary Influenced by Corruption”. The story quoting a 2015 US State Department Human Rights Report branded the Judiciary and the entire justice system of Liberia as “corrupt”.
Acceptance of bribes by judges and jurors, Police harassment, extortion of money from drivers and biased treatment accorded alleged corrupt government officials, uneven application of the law and unequal distribution of personnel and resources were flagged in the report.
“Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, release detainees from prison, or find defendants not guilty in criminal cases. Defense attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors”, according to the report.
Defendants are presumed innocent and they have the right to confront and question adverse witnesses, present their own evidence and witnesses, and appeal adverse decisions. “These rights, however, were not observed consistently” according to the report. The report further charged that reports of misconduct and corruption in the LNP was evidenced by the suspension or dismissal of several of its officers referencing the dismissal of two Police officers in January 2015 for alleged misappropriation of L$2.9 million entrusted to them for the EVD control operations.
It is within this context of Police corruption and political interference with the judiciary that Magistrate Peabody’s surrender of Court records (case file) to prosecutors, as reported in the June 12, edition of the Daily Observer, can be fully understood. And this development has claimed the attention of the Daily Observer.
According to the story written by Daily Observer Court reporter, Abednego Davies, Court records of charges levied against students and others, arrested and detained on June 7, were turned over to state prosecutors absent any request or application on the record for a turnover of case files to state prosecutors even before the accused had been formally arraigned before Magistrate Peabody to be formally acquainted with their charges.
Under Section 12.1 of Liberia’s Criminal Procedure Law, if the defendant is charged with an offense that is bailable, the court shall admit him to bail in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 13, Section 13.1 of the Criminal Procedure Law which inter alia states “A person in custody for the commission of a capital offense shall, before conviction, be entitled as of right to be admitted to bail unless the proof is evident or the presumption great that he is guilty of the offense”.
As the records attest, the accused have not been charged with any capital offense and should therefore be accorded the right to bail. After being detained for a period beyond the 48 hours. statutory requirement to have an accused charged and brought before a court of competent jurisdiction within 48 hours, the accused have still not been formally acquainted with their charges for spurious reasons although, Magistrate Peabody had previously issued and served a notice of assignment for Tuesday, June 11 at 9 a.m.”
Thus, the transfer of the case to a superior court without first granting the right to be heard constitutes a violation of “Due Process”. Under Section 12.1 of the Liberian Criminal Procedure law, when an individual who has not been indicted is brought before a Magistrate on a charge over which a superior court has original jurisdiction, the Magistrate shall immediately inform him/her of the charges against him and provide him (a) with a copy of the complaint if it has been filed in that Court (b) of his right to have a preliminary examination (c) of his right not to make a statement because such could be used against him and (d) the right to counsel at every preliminary investigation . These conditions were not met or satisfied.
Moreover, the turnover of the Case files to state prosecutors to prepare an indictment for the Grand Jury constitutes a violation of Section 12. 4 of the Criminal Procedure law which inter alia states: “After the conclusion of the preliminary examination, if the defendants have been held to answer, the magistrate or justice of the peace shall transmit forthwith to the clerk of the Circuit Court having jurisdiction of the offense all papers in the proceeding and any bail which has been taken. The record of the testimony of the witnesses taken at the examination shall be signed and certified by him.”
In view of the above, the Daily Observer is constrained to point out that the conclusion of a preliminary examination of the charges against the accused is a precondition for the transmission of all papers in the proceeding to the Circuit Court having jurisdiction over the matter. This condition was not satisfied yet, Magistrate Peabody turned over the case files not to the Circuit Court having jurisdiction over the matter but rather to state prosecutors.
In the opinion of this newspaper constitutes a violation of Section 12.4 of the Criminal Procedure law. In the opinion of the Daily Observer, Magistrate Peabody’s action is a clear affirmation of longstanding charges by national and international human rights organizations that in Liberian courts of law, justice is for sale to the highest bidder. For example, Representatives Kolubah and Gray are both accused of the same offenses. Kolubah is criminally charged and Gray gets off the hook.
We therefore ask is Liberia’s judiciary out of step with the law?