Liberia: Another Conference on Justice Reforms Could Mean More Wait for Judicial Action


ADDRESSING THE FOURTH National Judicial Conference Thursday, President George Manneh Weah urged the Judicial Branch of Government to work with the Executive Branch to re-brand Liberia through impressive reforms and actions affecting the business climate.

WHILE WE APPLAUD the President’s desire and expectations that the conference will contribute meaningfully toward improving the legal lapses in Liberia, it is important that those at the helm of power do more to alleviate Liberians from the headache of bad experiences in the courts.

FROM ISSUES of land rights to various criminal and misdemeanor offenses, Liberians far and wide have had to deal with a lot of issues that many at times feel reluctant to pursue to the the lack of faith in the system – and those governing that system.

PRESIDENT WEAH WAS CLEAR that if the law is the problem, then all must strive for reforms. “If processes and systems are the problem, let us change those processes.  If the lack of funding is a problem, let us find ways to provide more resources.  If certain people are the problem because, for selfish motives, they stand in the way of fair and transparent processes, then let us kick those people out of our systems to improve our investment and business climate.”

REFORM WILL NO DOUBT TAKE time, money and a lot of assistance from key stakeholders. However, nothing will change if the judges remain corrupt as the system has been for so long.

EACH AND EVERY year, multiple reports on Liberia have pointed to instances of injustices and rights by the very government in power.

THE MOST RECENT US Human Rights Report, highlighted significant issues arbitrary killings by police; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.

THE REPORT ALSO recorded arbitrary detention by government officials; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious restrictions on freedom of the press, including violence and threats of violence against journalists; official corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for violence against women; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and the worst forms of child labor.

COMING ON THE EVE of a series of unexplained and mysterious deaths in the country over the past months, the report lamented that impunity for individuals who committed human rights abuses, including atrocities, during the Liberian civil wars that ended in 2003, remained a serious problem, although the government cooperated with war crimes investigations in third countries. The government made intermittent but limited attempts to investigate and prosecute officials accused of current abuses, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government.

THIS IS WHY THE CONFERENCE this week, while welcoming has its work cut out for the judiciary branch of government.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, the conference must move beyond the rhetoric and speeches and strive to right the wrongs of a system that continues to give Liberians headaches and heartaches.

AS PRESIDENT WEAH asserted Thursday, conferences like these are important to assess the state of the nation’s judiciary, and to examine how the justice system and the rule of law are impacting our national polity.

IT IS HOWERVER DISHEARTENING that the judiciary branch has allowed too much space in between the holding of these conferences, the first of which took place in 1973.  The two others held 1976 and 2010 shows that not much attention has been paid to the legal lapses in Liberia over the past several years.

THIS IS WHY many have become disappointed in the branch of Government constitutionally empowered to interpret the Constitution and the body of statutes enacted by the National Legislature.

SADLY, IF NOTHING is done to fix the many problems facing the judiciary branch of government, Liberians will continue to suffer. More importantly, the business and investment climate in Liberia which have been a subject of great importance in recent years, will continue to endure hardship and uncertainty.

PRESIDENT WEAH was clear Thursday that government’s drive to provide jobs for the people and to grow our economy by increasing the flow of both domestic and private investments are poised to continue experience unnecessary hurdles.

ALL OF THESE ISSUES rely on a rather flawed justice system, on whose shoulders the business climate heavily relies.

THE PRESIDENT MADE A STRONG point Thursday by stressing that the process and time it takes to resolve legal disputes arising from the application of these laws, and the sense or perception of justice that arises from this adjudication process. “This very structure of our business and investment climate has been our concern since taking office,” the President said. 

IT IS IMPORTANT for the judiciary branch that the national conference does not end here.

WE ENCOURAGE those in the current government to follow up on the President’s assurances that a cabinet sub-committee will be tasked to present a roadmap after this Judiciary Conference that will track the recommended actions and changes needed for improvement.

WE ALSO HOPE that the President’s promise that the committee will be required to present a report in six months will not mimic a similar promise from Chief Justice Francis Korkpor four years ago at a judicial retreat in Gbarnga, Bong County.

AT THE TIME, Chief Justice Korkpor, in May 2017, staged a judicial retreat at the Ninth Circuit Court located at the Justice and Peace Hub in located in Gbarnga, Bong County. Bong County is located in central Liberia. The gathering, dubbed as the first of its kind in the history of the Liberian judiciary, was sponsored by the Liberian government with assistance from the United Nations Mission in Liberia at the time and other partners.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE DURING his opening remarks said the event was exclusively designed for justices and judges and had as its theme:  Strengthening the rule of law in Liberia through enhanced judicial performance.

CHIEF JUSTICE KORKPOR, at the time, promised that a report of the outcome of the retreat would have been made public. But it has been four years since the retreat was held and the report is yet to be made public despite a persistent reminders.

AFTER YET ANOTHER conference this week, fears of déjà vu is in the air.

IN THE PRESIDENT’S OWN WORDS: “Mr. Chief Justice, you will agree with me that if we make it difficult for businesses to register, to get electricity, or to pay their taxes, we affect the economy. If businesses cannot get timely legal redress from the courts, or if contracts cannot be effectively or fairly enforced, we affect the investment climate. If commercial banks cannot enforce judgement on collateral when people default on their loans, these banks may not be able lend money into our economy.”

IF THE PAST FOUR years waiting on the Chief Justice is anything to go by, Liberians can expect a long wait for justice reforms.