World Is Watching: Trial of Global Witness Accused a Litmus Test for Criticized Judiciary


LIBERIA’S JUDICIARY is one of the most criticized sectors as local and international reports have highlighted excesses and shortcomings within the judiciary.

AMONGST THESE shortcomings are reports of bribery, a corrupt jury system, and lack of transparency in the adjudication of cases.

THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT of State in its yearly reports continues to rate the judiciary as one of the worst performing institutions in Liberia-in the 2015 edition of its report, the State Department report mentioned that in most instances, cases are decided based on money, thereby eluding the quest for real justice.

THE SAME UNITED STATES Government that has been providing a critique of the judiciary system in Liberia through its embassy in Monrovia issued a statement calling for the Government of Liberia to take the recent Global Witness report linking several government officials to a questionable payment from Sable Mining Company seriously.

IN COUNTRIES AROUND THE WORLD, the best way to seek justice is through the court system which is dubbed the arbiter of justice.

COURTS ARE SEEN as the best ways to settle disputes and people who feel offended seek redress and in the courts. There should no respect for race, age, position or other factors that should make any party in a court superior to the other.

THE LAW, ITS INTERPRETATIONS and applications are the main factors used in courts in adjudicating cases but based on the characterizations of the Liberian justice system, it seems that the court system is contrary to the purpose for which courts are established and meant to achieve.

IN WESTERN JURISDICTIONS such as the United States of America, Great Britain, the law is not interpreted based on status as anyone who comes in conflict with the law is brought to book.

SOME AFRICAN COUNTRIES also have good legal system. In country such as South Africa, even the President Jacob Zuma is made to answer to allegations of corruption against him in court. While in Egypt, former President Mohamed Morsi was tried and convicted and is awaiting word from the Grand Mufti, Egypt highest religious figure on whether his conviction by a judge to death by hanging should go ahead.

IN LIBERIA, THE situation looks opposite as in most instances only those who are connected and have the financial power win the most cases in court.

NOW THE LEGAL system has another huge task at hand, the prosecution of senior and powerful individuals within the society.

SPEAKER ALEX TYLER, the third most politically powerful individual in the country, is currently before the court, same as one of the most renowned lawyers within this jurisdiction-Cllr. Varney Sherman.

THE TWO, ALONG with others, have been indicted on multiple criminal offences including bribery, criminal conspiracy, economic sabotage, criminal solicitation and criminal facilitation; and have filed their respective bonds, are awaiting further legal proceedings.

CLLR. SHERMAN has a long standing history of success in court cases as he stands accused by others of using money to get his way through a corrupt court system. His law firm, the Sherman and Sherman is known for representing the legal interest of big multinational companies including Firestone, Arcelor Mittal Steel Liberia and others.

THE LAWYER has already made known his confidence of getting acquitted from all the charges against him when he told his supporters that he was born in the court and knows more about the court and cannot therefore get convicted under the current circumstance.

CLLR. SHERMAN who opposed attempts by the Special Presidential Task Force setup to investigate the Global Witness Report from accessing his bank records, graciously opted to go to court-a terrain he says he knows better rather than submit to the task force.

“DON’T THREATEN ME with the court because that is where I work. That is where I was born and that is where I became successful”-Sherman told his supporters minutes after his criminal appearance bond was accepted by Criminal C at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia.

HE EVEN WENT FURTHER by describing the court as his home. “You know I have been a lawyer now for thirty-six years. I am what I am not because I am a politician but more so because I’m a lawyer. That courtroom is my home and continues to be my home,” Cllr. Sherman added.

FROM THE VERY start of the case involving Sherman, Tyler and others, some of the regular legal tactics where in most instances judges delay the acceptance of bonds and send individuals to jail as means of early humiliation was not done with these individuals as the bond sailed through within hours.

AS THE LEGAL STAGE is gradually getting set for the trial of Sherman, Tyler and others, it must be stated that this is not an ordinary trial like the case with many other cases at the court. This is a trial that has gained so much local and international attention and must be handled by the court with the utmost level of professionalism and fairness.

GIVEN THE PROFESSED FIGHT against corruption by this government, the international connection of the ongoing trial-a foreign firm allegedly bribing top government officials to bend the rules in giving out concession agreement and the implications for the investment climate of the country are all instances that make the case beyond ordinary court case.

THE JUDGE PRESIDING over this case and the entire judiciary must see this case as a litmus test that will either make or further break the judiciary in the wake of the already negative image of the justice system.

IF THE JUDICIARY MUST PROVE its critics wrong, it is now time to step up and rise to the occasion, handling this case with high level of care and professionalism.

THE GOVERNMENT OF LIBERIA which also drew out the indictment against these individuals must also treat the case with the highest attention, following all the legal processes, adducing pieces of evidence and supporting them to the letter.  

WE HAVE SEEN INSTANCES in time past where the government lapses led to individuals walking free from court and indictments getting dropped due to lack of sufficient evidence to proceed with prosecution.

IT IS A WIDELY KNOWN legal phenomenon that the court or a sitting judge cannot sua sponte a case or in other words do for a party litigant what that party litigant can do for itself, therefore the burden of proof now lies with the State to ensure that its indictment against these individuals is supported in court.

THE WHOLE WORLD is watching this case and we are challenging the Government of Liberia to push the proceedings with the best it can while we also call on the judiciary to dispense justice impartially and transparently.