The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to the lead story on the front page of its May 21st edition under the headline, “Chief Justice Korkpor Stifles Free Expression?”.
According to the story written by Daily Observer court reporter, Abednego Davies, Chief Justice Korkpor, apparently angered by Liberia National Bar Association President Tiawan Gongloe’s reference to the impeachment of former Associate Justice Ja’neh as unconstitutional and illegal, abruptly interrupted the Bar’s President and unceremoniously asked him off the podium midway through his remarks.
The Chief Justice’s action was unprecedented and it smacked not only of lowly opportunism and a play to the galley, it also served to convey the distinct impression that the Chief Jurist of the Republic of Liberia cannot be counted on in his stead as head of the nation’s judiciary to fully protect the Constitution in view of his blatant display of gross intolerance to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution of Liberia.
However, the Chief Justice, in an earlier event, had some harsh words for the media which he did not mince in his remarks given at the close of a five-day capacity building workshop for judicial reporters held at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia. He lashed out at journalists, accusing them of engaging in negative reporting which, according to him, can create negative public perceptions of judges and which causes the public to lose confidence in the country’s justice system.
But the Daily Observer, reacting to the Chief Justice’s comments, reminded him in its April 23, 2019 editorial that “the 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 Daily Observer is not unmindful of the numerous reports of widespread corruption in the judiciary which have been highlighted in several US Department of State Human Rights reports. The reports have pointed out that the nation’s judiciary is very corrupt and is one in which justice is for sale to the highest bidder. And this has been a perennial problem with the judiciary.
More to that, the Judiciary, over many years of this country’s existence and political history, has been a tool at the service and bidding of the Executive. In that regard, political dissent became synonymous to high treason and the Courts have always been used by the Executive to accomplish unwholesome ends. Corrupt judges who have caused great distress to many clients, are maintained in their positions.
The Daily Observer recalls, for example the suspension of a judge and forfeiture of his salary and benefits for duping several individuals of their properties. But within less than a year, the judge was recalled and ordered to resume jurisdiction over the very Court in which the judicial malpractices were committed. And this was all under the watch of Chief Justice Korkpor.
In another instance, the case involving several political parties which had taken their case to the Supreme court alleging fraud in the conduct of the 2017 general and presidential elections was another test in which the Supreme court under the leadership and watch of Chief Justice Korkpor failed to act when its mandate was trashed by NEC .
This newspaper recalls that the Court’s mandate to the National Elections Commission (NEC) to clean up the Voters Roll before the conduct of the 2017 elections was violated by the NEC yet, the Supreme Court did virtually nothing to hold the NEC in contempt of its decision, even after this newspaper had broken the news of the display and use of the corrupted Voters roll in a far off corner of Lofa county.
The Daily Observer must register its grave concern about the implications of Justice Korkpor’s apparent blatant misuse of authority as evidenced by his gag action against the President of the Bar Association, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe with whom, according to sources, Justice Korkpor has been at odds since he (Gongloe) publicly opined that Justice Ja’neh’s impeachment and removal was unconstitutional and therefore illegal.
In the opinion of this newspaper, Justice Korkpor’s displayed intolerance to free speech and dissenting opinion has served to undermine whatever pretensions he purports to have as a cold and neutral arbiter of unadulterated justice. If the Chief Justice of the nation can be found wanting in such regard, then what hope can the people of this nation realistically entertain that ours is a nation in which liberty and justice is guaranteed to all, is the question begging answers.
Truth be told, Chief Justice Korkpor’s demeaning remarks to the President of the Bar Association in the presence of foreign diplomats constitutes not just an insult to the entire membership of the Bar but it sends a clear signal that dark days are ahead for the people of this nation and the freedoms they have gained through years of blood sweat and tears.
This should constitute a wake-up call to all well-meaning Liberians to reject arbitrariness and unlawful transgression of our civil liberties. Lest we forget, the impending June 7 protesters have indicated that the sacking of perceived corrupt public officials is one of several demands likely to be included on their laundry list.
But given what the nation bore witness to at the unseating of Justice Ja’neh, it appears not unlikely that a change in the leadership and make-up of the Supreme Court Bench could find its way to the laundry list. Whatever the case, this newspaper holds the view that Chief Justice Korkpor owes the Liberia National Bar Association and its president an apology and the people of Liberia whose sensibilities have been offended.
As Justice Korkpor noted recently in his remarks to judicial reporters, “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”.
You have indeed gravely erred, Mr. Chief Justice!