Supreme Court Faces Substantive Legal Conundrum on Code of Conduct


Monrovia – The long debate regarding the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct Law passed by the National Legislature in 2014 and signed into law by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf which amongst others prohibits presidential appointees from taking part in political activities has reached a big stage with the Supreme Court of Liberia expected to hear argument into a petition filed by Bong County Superintendent Selina Polson Mappy.

The Code of Conduct provides in Part V that officials appointed by the President should not part take in political activities.

“PART V: POLITICAL PARTICIPATION    5.1 All Officials appointed by the President of the Republic of Liberia shall not: a) engage in political activities, canvass or contest for elected offices;   b) use Government facilities, equipment or resources in support of partisan or political activities;   c) serve on a campaign team of any political party, or the campaign of any independent candidate”.

Superintendent Mappy through her legal counsel petitioned the high court praying the court that the Code of Conduct violates her constitutional rights to participation, association in activities as well as politics.

As the Code of Conduct has become a hot topic following the recent convention of the ruling Unity Party when several presidential appointees contested for positions within the party, Monday’s argument will be highly anticipated by several other individuals who are to be affected by the Code of Conduct along with their supporters.

The argument which starts at 10 am local time will pave the way for a big decision by the high court on the Code of Conduct ahead of the pending 2017 general and presidential elections.

From procedural to substantive

Under Liberia’s jurisdictions which is a common law country, a judge can rule in a case based on procedural on substantive issues.

On the basis of procedure the judge is obliged by to look at the processes leading to the case brought to court including the legal standing of the parties, the actual remedy being sought, the remedy at law for the parties, the time of filling the complaint and other statutory requirements for filling a complaint before the court.

On the other hand a judge can rule based on the substantive issue which has to do with the law underlying the complaint. The law protecting the complainant or the law protecting the complainant from any violations.

Few weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled on the basis of procedural issues on similar case brought before the court by a Civil Society organization with the court insisting that the organization was not the rightful party to file such petition.

The Citizens Solidarity Council (CSC) through its Chairman, James Brooks filed a petition before the Supreme Court against the Government of Liberia by and thru the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia, contesting the constitutionality of a provision of the Code of Conduct.

After the writ was filed, the Ministry of Justice filed a response against the writ to the Supreme Court, asking the court to dismiss the writ as the group, through its Chairman Brooks, has no capacity to file such a lawsuit against the government.

Following lengthy legal review of the petition, the Supreme Court voted 3 consenting and 2 dissenting in throwing out the petition.  

The court ruled that the Civil Society organization did not prove what injury its members will suffer as a consequence of the Code of Conduct.

Justice Philip A.Z. Banks in his dissent stated that the high court did not dwell into the substantive issues of the case.

Now that a rightful party, a Superintendent appointed by the President who according to information intents to contest a legislative seat has filed a petition before the Supreme Court, the court will now be compelled to look into the substantive issue contained the petition and give an opinion on the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct Law.

A decision by the Supreme Court will be a landmark decision as it will have huge ramifications on the 2017 general and presidential elections. It will not only be a ruling for Superintendent Mappy but several other individuals grappling with similar situation. Once the Supreme Court passes on this complaint it will help to settle the confusion of others and will set a precedent for further rulings and decisions on the Code of Conduct.

There are individuals including former Central Bank of Liberia Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones, Cllr. Jallah Barbu and many others.