Monrovia - The fate of the upcoming presidential and legislative elections is on the verge of being in limbo in the wake of a strong push in the lower House of the national legislature to impeach three justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia.
On Tuesday the House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary submitted its preliminary report on the petition for the impeachment of his Honor Kabineh Ja’ Neh, Her Honor Jameetta Howard-Wollokollie and his Honor Philips A.Z. Banks all three being associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia.
According to the committee’s report, after receiving the petition a writ of summons were issued. Given that Liberian law gives a minimum of ten days for answer/returns to be filed in civil cases, notwithstanding the mandate as to when the Judiciary committee should report to plenary, the writ of summons gives the Associate Justices up to August 14, 2017 to file their answer/returns.
The House Judiciary committee in its report to plenary further stated that in the absence of any rules governing impeachment proceedings and given that there is no precedence for it, the Judiciary committee has drafted a resolution which sets out the rules for the impeachment of the three Associate Justices, giving them due process and the right to legal representation in keeping with the dictates of Constitution.
Given the limited time that is left before the legislature takes its constitutional break, the committee wants the Plenary to suspend its rules, discuss and vote on Tuesday, August 18, 2017.
The committee believes if the two actions can be expeditiously completed, they will have set rules for the governance of impeachment of the Justices.
“We will have a set of rules for the governance of impeachment of the three Associate Justices before the time for them to file their answer/returns to the petition expires on august 14, 2017.
Shortly thereof, in keeping with the adopted resolution, a preliminary hearing will be conducted by the Judiciary committee to determine whether there is probable cause for the impeachment proceeding against the associate Justices,” the committee noted.
Legal observers say much talked about controversial Code of Conduct law and the ruling from the Supreme Court on the Code has the propensity of plunging the country into chaos as the lower House seems poised to adopt the petition of six law makers to impeach three justices who signed the recent Harrison Karnwea petition.
One legal expert said late Tuesday night that the omission of the Chief Justice, who also signed the petition raises questions about the motives of the lawmakers.
Article 73 of the Constitution states that no judge shall be subject to summons for civil or criminal process or of any person or authority on account of the decision they render in a ruling in court or in chambers.
However, legal experts say the lawmakers seem to ignore the Constitution and are bent on proceeding.
Constitutional scholars said the normal process is that the House acts as a grand jury by passing a bill of impeachment and the Senate conducts a trial.
However, in this process the House sent the petition to the judicial committee which has erroneously summoned the justices to respond in 10 days.
Late Tuesday, the House adopted the impeachment proceedings that failure of the justices to respond would subject them to automatic impeachment by default if they fail to appear.
“This move has the potential of plunging the nation into a constitutional crisis as the entire court would be rendered useless,” the legal expert said.
Motion For Reconsideration on Floor
Rep. Edwin Snowe is opposed to the proceeding. On Tuesday, he filed a motion for reconsideration on the impeachment proceeding.
A motion for reconsideration is a privilege motion given to all members of the legislature.
He has three sittings to present his motion and defend to his colleagues why they should not go ahead with the proceeding.
Rep. Snowe told FrontPageAfrica, “I believe the action of some members of the Senate and House of Representatives is overreaching and undermines our democracy.
“I am therefore calling on them to immediately abolish their action."
"I am also calling on the National Bar and all others to join me in denouncing their action.
The ECOWAS Parliament is also concern about this development and is calling on members of the legislature to respect the separation of powers. This is unacceptable.”
Government May Shut Down
President Sirleaf may shut down her government should the impeachment be successful, a government source confided to FrontPageAfrica Tuesday.
“This is an attempt to sabotage the government."
"The Supreme Court has a lot of cases to handle during this election, now removing three of the five justices is going to create a setback and put the entire elections on hold,” the source said.
Some political observers say, the controversy could force the current administration to order government’s operations halted in the wake of an inadequate Supreme Court.
“The impeachment would also delay the current government’s tenure as elections would be postponed,” the source averred.
Varney Sherman in the Midst?
A lawmaker who called for anonymity told this paper that he highly suspects Senator Varney Sherman being the mastermind of the proceeding, but working behind the scene.
“Why is that all these things started only when Senator Sherman returned to Liberia. "
"This is not by coincidence."
"He wants to get even with the President,” the lawmaker said.
FrontPageAfrica has not been able to independently verify this information.
However, Cllr. Sherman is one of several individuals linked to the Sable Mining bribery scandal that were ordered to be prosecuted by Pres. Sirleaf.
In fact, he was the chairman of the ruling party when the Special Presidential Task Force set up to investigate and prosecute individuals associated with the scheme attempted arresting him from his residence in Congo Town, outside Monrovia.
The former ruling party chairman was recently forced to fly out of the country after falling out while in session at the Capital Building.
It can also be recalled that just few days before the Supreme Court handed down the ruling on Liberty Party versus the National Elections Commission case, the Unity Party cried wolf, alleging that they were informed of plans by the Supreme Court to allow Mr. Harrison Karnwea and other candidates who violated the Code of Conduct to contest the elections.