The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a front page story carried in its Monday, April 22nd edition under the headline, “Judges Are Targets of Negative Media Reporting”. According to Daily Observer court reporter, Abednego Davies, quoting Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, said “your unbalanced reporting can create negative perception about us as judges to the extent that it can cause the public to lose confidence in the country’s justice system. That is so bad”.
The Chief Justice, while stressing the need for the media and the judiciary to work together to sustain the country’s peace, injected unexpectedly, “but sometimes, your reporting makes some of the judges and justices to appear as a monster in the eyes of the public, so such reporting needs to stop.”
He expressed these concerns in an extemporaneous speech he delivered at the close of a five-day capacity building workshop of Judicial reporters at the Temple of Justice recently.
The Chief however admitted that Judges can and do err…. “Do not give the public wrong impression about (us) justices’ judgment. Let your reporting be accurate and objective; even if we were to be in the wrong, we can say sorry, because judges are human beings, who can gravely err”.
This admission by the Chief Justice is not however surprising, given the spate of human rights reports, including those of the United States Department of State, citing corruption rife in the Judiciary to the point where justice becomes available to the highest bidder. According to the 2018 United States Department of State Human Rights report on Liberia, “Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases”.
Given the above, the public is left to wonder just what measures have the Bench under the leadership of Chief Justice Korkpor put in place to address the harm done by errant judges who, for pecuniary considerations, render judgements in favor of clients with the deepest pockets.
There is a well-documented case for example, of a sitting Judge who was charged and found guilty of impropriety where he caused substantial pain and suffering to several individuals through his judgements which were often skewed in favor of the deepest pocket. For his indiscretions, he was ordered suspended from practice and his salary and allowances withheld.
But months later, the Judge was back, presiding over the very court where he is reported to have committed the offenses and he still presides over the same court today. But Judges who, by virtue of their positions, are handling “life and death” matters, should be upright and should refrain from entering marriage with parties or any party appearing before their Court.
This caveat is expressed in the Supreme Court decision of May 3,1941 in the case, “Alfred Victor John, Appellant vs Republic of Liberia, Appellee” as recorded in LLR Vol. 7 P: 261. It reads thus: “Judges are to refrain from wedding either party to a suit and are admonished to view every case wholly objectively and impartially. They should not expunge evidence or witnesses from the record”.
Further, the late Chief Justice Grimes delivering the opinion of the Supreme Court in the case, “Harriet Dennis Mitchell, Appellant vs Republic of Liberia, Appellee” on January 17, 1941, observed the following: “A court of justice is a sacred place dedicated to the God of Justice. Those who administer at the altar of Justice and especially judges and prosecuting attorneys, should do so with pure hearts and clean hands, viewing all matters objectively and endeavoring to mete out justice impartially to friend and foe alike”.
“To attempt to use a court of justice as a vehicle of oppression either to prosecute a person who is innocent or to hold under suspicion and in suspense a person charged with a crime which any student of law cannot but know must end in his ultimate acquittal is persecution not prosecution savoring of prostitution of a baser type than that which Lord Lytton in his “Last Days of Pompeii” spoke of with scorn as he described the gladiatorial combats of ancient days”.
“If justice can be so perverted in the capital of this Republic under the direct eyes of the central office of the Department of Justice, we tremble to think what must officially occur in places remote from the center where parties litigant may not have the knowledge, courage or money to bring to their cases here for correction”.
“And it is not improbable that the selfish interests and spite which inspired this prosecution, at such great expense to the public purse, was that which repeatedly prevented the prosecution from applying the correct principles of law to the facts as they existed. It follows therefore, from the foregoing, that the judgement of the court below should be reversed, and the case remanded with instructions that the trial court should immediately resume jurisdiction and discharge the defendant without day and cause her bond to be delivered up; and it is hereby so ordered”.
The Daily Observer is not unmindful of the fact that often does the public bear witness to the kinds of malpractices the late Chief Justice railed against. Too many people, especially poor people, lack access to justice.
Hence this newspaper, the Daily Observer, wishes to remind the Chief Justice that this chronic lack of access by most Liberians to unadulterated justice coupled with blatant corruption in the judiciary are the chief culprits serving to undermine public confidence in the judiciary and not the perceived negative press reportage.
The Judiciary must do much more to inspire public trust and confidence which can be done only if those in leadership of the Judiciary can remain above partisan and base pecuniary interests, But whether they can is the universal question.