For the past few weeks the nation’s attention has been riveted to the ongoing impeachment saga involving Supreme Court Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh and the House of Representatives. Since the saga began, there have been varying interpretations of the Constitution of the Republic regarding the authority of the Supreme Court to exercise jurisdiction over a matter solely ascribed to the House of Representatives by the Constitution of Liberia.
The public has also weighed in on the matter, also with varying interpretations of those Constitutional provisions around which so much controversy and passion have been aroused. This is hardly surprising for a country whose people have, in less than half a century, shaken off more than a century-old True Whig Party dynasty, a decade long bloody, fascist military dictatorship, endured nearly two decades of violent fratricidal conflict, brushed aside a civilian-cum-military fascist dictatorship and two decades plus of a very corrupt civilian leadership under Africa’s first democratically elected female President.
Indeed, it can be argued, as a spattered few have done, that the country’s current ordeal is but symptomatic of the painful process characteristic of a national political renaissance. It is argued that the current imbroglio is but a fitting test of the strength and resilience of our nascent democracy. The Daily Observer could not agree more, especially looking back at the rat-a-tat-tat on the nation’s judiciary associated with the impeachment process initiated by the House of Representatives.
Whatever the case turns out to be, this newspaper holds that, at the end of the day, the country’s democracy would emerge stronger like a keen blade tempered and steeled by fire. These ongoing developments can rightly be described as watershed moments in the history of the country’s political development, particularly its Judiciary. Since time immemorial, the nation’s judiciary has played a key role in its political development, not mainly for protecting and safeguarding the gains of democracy including the basic rights of freedom of assembly and of free speech and expression, but more so for supporting dictatorial inclinations of past leaders.
In kowtowing to the whims of past leaders, the Supreme Court has set strange but unlawful precedents such as the imposition of excessive fines as was the case in 1974 of the Revelation magazine editors in 1974, veteran pamphleteer Albert Porte vs Stephen Tolbert, also in 1974, the Janus faced interpretation of the laws on citizenship as was the case with former Justice Banks in the 2011 petition by Jerome Korkoya seeking to quash Article 28 of the Constitution on citizenship as well as statutory provisions on dual nationality.
And, more recently, is the case involving the National Elections Commission(NEC) and contending parties over the clean-up of the Voters Rolls prior to the holding of runoff elections in December 2017. This newspaper also recalls that in 1961 during the regime of President William V. S. Tubman, a well known and respected Liberian lawyer then Attorney General of Liberia, C. Abayomi Cassell, was banned by the Supreme Court from practicing law in the country. And what was his crime?
It was simply because he had expressed opposing views about the Liberian judiciary at a legal confab organized by the International Commission of Jurists in Nigeria. He presented a paper on the subject The Responsibility of the Judiciary and of the Bar for the Protection of the Rights of the Individual in Liberian Society. As attorney general or Justice Minister, Cassell thought that laws such as sedition on which he had earlier prosecuted opposition politician Didwo Twe, restrained the rights of citizens.
He (Cassell) was charged for ‘professional misconduct and contempt of the Supreme Court’. According to Liberian law reports, “The Chief Justice felt that certain portions of the paper were basically untrue as to accusations of restraints certain Liberian statutes allegedly laid on the rights of citizens. He felt that the document was generally contemptuous because it asserted Counsellor Cassell’s belief that certain statutes, under which he, as Attorney General, had prosecuted citizens for the commission of crimes for which he had prayed judgments of our courts, constituted restraints on the constitutional rights of those citizens”.
“He characterized his insistence that the courts rendered judgments against those citizens, growing out of the said prosecutions, as an instance of deception practiced on the courts. The Chief Justice felt that the Cassell’s conduct in allowing circulation of a document so basically untrue, and so destructively critical of the judiciary of Liberia, in the presence of the head of the judicial branch of the government and at this international conference, was disrespectful, humiliating and embarrassing to the Chief Justice and to his office; was conduct unworthy of a counsellor of the Supreme Court Bar; and constituted gross constructive contempt”.
Charges were eventually prepared against the respected Counselor and he was accordingly cited to appear and show cause why he should not be made to answer on several enumerated counts. The Court continued, “In view of the foregoing, we are of the considered opinion that the respondent, Counsellor Cassell, is guilty of contempt of the Supreme Court; and because of the gravity which we attach to his contemptuous act, we do hereby disbar him as a lawyer and forbid his further practice of law before any of the courts of this country. And it is so ordered. Respondent disbarred”.
The history of Liberia’s Judiciary shows that disbarment, contempt, both constructive and otherwise have, over the years, been choice tools used by the Supreme Court to wheel lawyers into line and keep them in a state of subservience to Supreme Court diktat whether legal or extralegal. Today, the Supreme Court finds itself embroiled in deep controversy over its “Stay Order” served on the House of Representatives, seeking to halt impeachment proceedings against one of its members.
While this newspaper holds the conviction that this nation shall eventually rise above the current imbroglio, it rests firmly in the belief that the nation’s Supreme Court will never again be the same even granted it emerges from this “wahala” with its membership intact. Hereafter it will have to exercise deeper restraint on tendencies that serve to engender distrust and non-confidence in the nation’s judiciary.
For its own survival, it will have to shed that negative image created by its perceived judicial mishandling of such cases like the MOTIFCO with Amos Brosius, the Ecobank case involving the late Austin Clarke, the case involving the Milad Hage intestate estate and his surviving spouse, Oumou Hage and others.
One thing for sure is that these developments shall, in the opinion of legal analysts, have a sobering effect which is likely to positively impact the dispensation of cold, neutral and impartial justice in Liberia.
Only Time Will Tell!