Associate Justice-designate, Sinoe County Senator Joseph Nagbe, over the weekend, went through confirmation hearings hoping to replace retired Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks. With just about 2 years left to the end of his tenure as Senator, his appointment to serve on the Supreme Court Bench has, without an iota of doubt, given Senator Nagbe a new lease of life in government service at least until he attains age 70 after which he can no longer continue to serve.
During the confirmation hearing, the Associate Justice-designate stated, “I beseech you, my fellow countrymen, that decisions coming out of the Court—whether good or bad, must be respected by all.” He further emphasized that “So far we constrained ourselves to respect the Constitution. In like manner, we must respect the courts; for it is before the courts complaints are heard, argued and disposed of, not street corners.”
It remains unclear what the Associate Justice-designate actually meant when he spoke about “Respecting the Court” and accepting any decision from it whether good or bad”. This newspaper, the Daily Observer, upholds and supports the rule of law and by extension, unbridled respect for the courts.
Unfortunately, and contrary to Associate Justice-designate Nagbe’s call to Liberians to accept whatever decisions, good or bad, emanating from the Supreme Court, the Daily Observer can never ever countenance nor support blind acceptance of judicial indiscretions, be it from the Supreme Court or any Court of record or non-record, administrative tribunal or whatever for that matter.
The eminent Liberian jurist and late Chief Justice Louis Arthur Grimes addressing himself to what a court of justice should ideally represent reminds us in the following words: “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 clean hands, viewing all matters purely 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 suspense a person charged with a crime which any student of law cannot but know must ultimately end in his 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”.
Continuing Justice Grimes said, “If justice can be so far 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 occasionally occur in places remote from this center where party litigants may not have the knowledge, courage or money to bring their cases up here for correction.”
This newspaper is continuously troubled by the fact that for over two decades, every year the US Department of State publishes its Human Rights Report about Liberia, indicting the nation’s Judiciary for corruption. For example, the 2017 US State Department Human Rights Report indicates, judges and magistrates were reported to have been subject to corrupt practices.
The report says in part, “Corruption persisted in the legal system. Some judges accepted bribes to award damages in civil cases; judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, or acquit defendants in criminal cases.” The report also indicates that prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favorable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial.
The Supreme Court, in fact, being aware of corrupt practices in the Judiciary, in February of 2017, suspended three judges for committing judicial malpractices, including breach of attorney-client privilege and degrading the dignity and integrity of the judiciary after each was accused of corruption.
The Daily Observer in September of 2017 also published a story highlighting the Judicial Inquiry Committee’s launch of a corruption investigation of judges and court officers after a criminal court bailiff publicly confessed to colluding with judges to solicit bribes in exchange for predetermined outcomes.
In another instance this newspaper recalls the cases of the West African Fisheries and the Milad Hage Intestate estate and how judges and even Justices of the Supreme Court have basically wedded themselves as parties with vested interests in the aforementioned cases, thus denying justice to those in need.
Historically speaking, the Supreme Court has been but a footstool of the Executive bowing to its every whim. On many occasions it has been found wanting in respect of adherence to the rule of law and the dispensation of unfettered, cold, neutral and blind justice especially to the poor and disenfranchised.
This newspaper recalls for example the recent Presidential elections and the attendant disputes arising out of a flawed and compromised Voters Registry which the Supreme Court had ordered the National Elections Commission (NEC) to clean up before conducting the runoff elections. The NEC flagrantly violated the Court’s mandate to clean up the Voters Registry and instead proceeded to hold elections using the very registry which had not been cleaned up.
The Daily Observer was the first to break the story informing the world that the compromised Voters Registry was already on exhibition in a remote Lofa County Village. The information was brought to Public attention but the Court simply looked the other way. And had it not been for the sobriety displayed by the opposition, the nation could have easily slipped into a renewed cycle of violence, no thanks to the Supreme Court.
In the wake of this recent ruckus between the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives, the public awaits the outcome of the impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh.
The House of Representatives has made it abundantly clear that it is moving full steam ahead, completely ignoring Justice Yuoh’s stay order and by implication, trashing Associate Justice-designate Nagbe’s call to the public to accept any decision coming out of the Supreme Court whether good or bad.
What next therefore for the Supreme Court?