Petitioners ‘Not Ready’: What Kind of Behavior Is That?

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On Friday, November 28, 2014 Justice in Chambers of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor Phillip A.Z. Banks, slammed a stay order on the ensuing special senatorial elections scheduled for December 16, 2014.

A very serious lawsuit was filed about 10 days before the Justice in Chambers to stop the ensuing October 16 special senatorial elections, which were approved both by the Legislative and Executive branches of government.   

The stay order was issued pending a hearing by the full bench of the Supreme Court of   a lawsuit jointly filed against the National Elections Commission (NEC) by several institutions and individuals.  The stay order included all campaign activities.

The petitioners included the Concerned Group of Eminent Citizens, the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC) and some political party leaders.   Others were some Civil Society Organizations by and through their spokespersons, Blamoh Nelson and J. Emmanuel Bowier, John Ballon, Milton and Nathaniel Barnes.

They claimed that the ongoing election process was a threat to public health against the spread and transmission of the deadly Ebola virus.

But when the full bench of the High Court, which took the lawsuit against NEC very seriously, met last Friday for oral hearings between the contending parties and NEC, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor found to his utter surprise that those who had successfully petitioned the Justice in Chambers to issue to the stay order said they were “not ready” for the hearings.  This is though the High Court had given the petitioners time to file their brief, in time for Friday’s oral hearings.

The lawyer for the political parties, Counselor Laveli Supuwood, who is himself a senatorial aspirant in the same elections, told the High Court last Friday that he was unready for the oral hearings.

The High Court, to begin with, will have to determine whether this is not a conflict of interest—for an aspirant candidate in these very elections to be the one pleading for cancellation.

The Chief Justice was quick to warn the petitioners that the Court would “not accept any more delay tactics from any lawyers in this matter.” He gave them up to Saturday, December 6, to file their brief.

We would have thought that these petitioners and their legal counsel, would have realized the sensitive and serious nature and time-bar surrounding this whole electoral matter.  The election, for which these petitioners are seeking cancellation, is scheduled for Tuesday, December 16—next Tuesday.

We would have thought further that the petitioners would have realized that millions of United States dollars have already been spent on the preparations for these elections; and that the money came from a government already strapped for cash, given the devastating blow Ebola has dealt to the national economy.  Finance Minister Amara Konneh announced a week ago that the economy had shrunk from the projected 5.8% to 0.4%.

So we are dealing here with a very serious matter of grave   implications.  To come now and say that the very petitioners are “not ready” with their briefs for a lawsuit they themselves had enthusiastically filed and received an immediate and   serious response from the Justice in Chambers, makes one wonder how serious these petitioners were about their lawsuit.

That is precisely why Chief Justice Korkpor pulled no punches in warning the petitioners that the High Court would accept “no more delay tactics” in this case—a practice that Liberian lawyers over the decades have been well known to employ.    

This is definitely one of the reasons so many people languish for years in jail without trial—many of them the victims of “delay tactics.”

We hope that Counselor Supuwood and company are ready this morning, Monday, December 8, with their brief.  Should they not be, they run the risk of their petition being summarily thrown out by the High Court.

We pray that the High Court will find a way to mitigate (ease) the tension, by first realizing that the elections have been approved by the two other branches of government; and by suggesting ways in which the threat of viral transmission can be minimized.

Thankfully, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has already banned mass gatherings, making it mandatory that political parties and candidates find more creative ways to campaign instead of mass gatherings such as the Congress for Democratic Change staged two Fridays ago.

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