Is Trial by Jury a Judicial Obstruction?

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Given the history of jury performance in Liberia in both the distant and recent past, the answer to this question is, it would seem, a resounding “Yes!”

All too often the state has lost major cases because wealthy defendants—or their lawyers, or both—have “taken care of the jury,” leaving the Ministry of Justice or lawyers for the prosecution looking incompetent or clownish (ignorant).

The most recent example of this was the suspension by the Supreme Court last Monday of further proceedings in the ongoing economic sabotage case involving the former Managing Director of the National Port Authority (NPA), Matilda Parker, and her Comptroller, Madam Christiana Kpabar Paelay. The High Court’s decision was issued by Justice Jamesetta Wolokollie based on a complaint filed by state lawyers. They asked the High Court to mandate Judge Blamo Dixon of Criminal Court ‘C’ to deliver his recent ruling in a jury tampering investigation for review.

Judge Dixon last week in his jury tampering allegation refused to disband the sequestrated jury, but dropped only three of the 15-member panel—Kissi Kamara, Kebbeh Kollie and Melvin Teah Neowen—all of whom prosecutors accused of being behind a plot, exposed through a certain letter allegedly involving them, to collect money from the defendants to influence the outcome of the trial.

The judge also ignored the prosecution’s plea to disband the entire panel, but ordered the remaining 12 jurors to sit on the case because, according to him, the letter did not reach them.

Madam Justice Wolokollie has meanwhile instructed defendants Parker and Paelay to appear before her today, Monday, February 29.

The matter is further complicated by Judge Dixon’s removal of Kissi Kamara, whose mother, Jenneh Kamara, was the person currently cooking for the jury and is said also to be implicated in the jury tampering allegation. So prosecution wondered why she, too, was not removed, but only her son.

Prosecution further complained that the letter bearing the names of two of the three jurors, Kollie and Neowen, and an unnamed other were seized from Bailiffs Bendu Dukuly and Roland Nyanku, assigned with the sequestered jurors.

During the investigation, it was alleged that one Peter Wisdom Fayiah, believed to be the assistant manager of the Jury Management Team, was the person who gave the letter to the two bailiffs for delivery to the panel.

Prosecution further complains that the judge failed to take any action against Peter Fayiah, nor did Judge Dixon honor prosecution’s request to allow them to look at the Temple of Justice personnel list to verify whether the signature on the back of the letter resembled that of Fayiah’s.

We commend the High Court for its timely action. We submit that the officials of the Supreme Court could not sit idly by, supinely witnessing such a serious allegation of jury tampering in such a high profile case—or any other case—without exercising its authority to protect the integrity of the judicial system.

While we await the outcome of the investigation into the alleged involvement of the bailiffs and jurors in this case, we are constrained to revisit the constitutional principle of trial by jury. The Constitution calls for all persons being prosecuted for crime to be tried by their peers, meaning a jury constituted by the court. This is deemed a constitutional right by all party litigants in criminal trials. But who are these so-called “peers” that the Constitution talks about? Are they peers of individuals who happen to be, for one reason or the other, rightly or wrongly, accused of being in violation of the law? Or are they those who believe that the quickest way to wealth and prosperity is through their selection and appointment as jurors, waiting to seize any and every opportunity to extort money from party litigants in the deliberate, devious, corrupt and unpatriotic attempt to circumvent, frustrate and undermine the cause of justice?

We trust that this latest intervention by the High Court will ensure a thorough and complete investigation into jury tampering. Where did the letter come from? How did it reach Peter Fayiah? As an employee of the Jury Management Team, a body that was created to help protect the integrity and smooth functioning of juries, how was it possible for him to receive any letter directed to the jury without the Judge’s knowledge? The recipient of such a letter should have been where the buck immediately stopped, for he should have known that it was grossly improper, even criminal, for anyone for any reason whatsoever even to attempt approaching or contacting a sequestered jury.

The public is eagerly awaiting the outcome of the investigation to determine whether in truth yet again the jury in Liberia is nothing more than an obstruction of justice.

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