Chief Justice Hints Undermining of Separation of Powers

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Monrovia – A call for the setting up of a Judicial Oversight Committee by the lawmakers before the constituency break last month is not going down well with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor, who is the head of the Judiciary.

Report by Kennedy L. Yangian, [email protected]

The Oversight Committee, when established will give lawmakers some responsibility over the country’s judicial system

Chief Justice Korkpor stated Monday, October 8, in his speech at the official opening of the October Term of the Supreme Court that such committee, when established, will directly be an assail on the doctrine of the Separation of Power as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.

“We have heard a call or proposal for the establishment of a Judicial Oversight Committee within the Legislature. What surprises me is that the call is being made from an unlikely source. We shall say more on this at the appropriate time not in the too distant future,” said Chief Justice Korkpor.

He continued that such a call does not only undermine the independence of the Judiciary but also directly assails the doctrine of the Separation of Powers as enstrined in the organic law, the Constitution.

 The Chief Justice made the comment in the presence of President George Manneh Weah, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, President Pro-Tempore Albert Chie and House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, all of whom were in attendance of the court’s opening.

The full presence of officials of other branches of government, prompted the Chief Justice to term it as “strange and the first of its kind in the history of the Judiciary.”

 Neither the President nor any of his subordinates made any formal statement at the occasion, which was also marked by the admission of former Sinoe County Senator, Cllr. Joseph Nagbe, on the Supreme Court Bench as the new Associate Justice, who replaced retired Associate Justice Philip A.Z. Banks.  

Justice Banks

Retired Justice Banks was appointed to the Supreme Court Bench in 2010 by the former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. He retired on August 7, 2018 after reaching the age of 70.

Several legal luminaries commenting on the retirement of Justice Banks stated he is one of the country’s outstanding legal scholars, who have contributed immensely to the country’s legal system.

For Banks, he stated prior to his retirement that though he will be retiring, he would still remain active in the legal profession.

Article 72 (b) of the 1986 Constitution provides that Chief Justice, Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and Judges of subordinate courts of records should retired after reaching the age of 70.

New Associate Justice

The Chief Justice congratulated Associate Justice Nagbe for his appointment and welcomed him to the ranks and files of the high court; adding that the former Sinoe County Senator is a Counselor, who has practiced law for many years and that he was coming to the Supreme Court with a wealth of experience from the Legislature where he also served for many years. 

Noticeable Absent of Justice Ja’neh

Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh did not attend Monday’s opening of the Supreme Court. It was said by Chief Justice Korkpor that he was on a sick leave out of the country.

There is pending impeachment proceeding hanging over Associate Justice Ja’neh. The Impeachment Bill was sponsored by two representatives — Acarous Gray and Thomas Fallah — both of whom are senior members of the ruling party of President Weah.

Both Gray and Fallah called for the impeachment of Justice Ja’neh after accusing him of multiple counts including abuse of office.

Number of Cases Heard by the High Court in Past Term

Commenting on the ended March 2018 Term of Court, Chief Justice Korkpor stated that the High Court heard and decided a total of 35 cases. Two other cases heard during the same term involving remedial writs, were decided after the court closed making it the total of 37 cases.

What to Expect this Term of Court

In the coming October Term of Court, the Chief Justice admonished lawyers of their oath they took not to demean themselves from being respectable and honorable citizens. He urged them not to do anything to undermine the dignity, authority and integrity of the court.

His Stewardship As Head of the Judiciary

Touching on his administration’s success so far, Chief Justice Korkpor bragged that since he took over as head of the Judiciary, he has made some gains and no one can deny them because the pieces of evidence abound. He told the audience that the pieces of evidence can be found in the number of judicial facilities constructed through out the country.

“We need to do more in spite of the many gains we have made. However, our desire to undertake more reform programs is seriously hampered by the lack of adequate budgetary support.” 

According to the Chief Justice, the past several years as far back as before the civil war, the Judiciary budget has remained extremely low as compared to the other branches of government.

He thanked several foreign partners including the Chinese and Swedish Governments, USAID among others for their assistances and scholarships they have provided the Judiciary.

Justice Minister Dean

Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, who is also the Dean of the Supreme Court, stated that during the March 2018 Term of the Court, the Justice Ministry pledged its commitment to support efforts by the Judiciary in enhancing access to justice for ordinary Liberians. 

He further stated that there was a need to provide training for prosecutors and judges as the system under which lawyers and judges operate needs to be reformed and some of the laws amended to reflect present day realities.

“We are also reviewing the Criminal Procedure Law particularly the provision relating to the arrest and incarceration of party litigants by magistrates on the strength of a complaint by a party without any reference to the Ministry of Justice or the Liberian National Police (LNP).

For now, Justice Minister Dean revealed that the Ministry has found out that there is a direct correlation between pre-trial detention, prison overcrowdness on one hand and imprisonment on the orders of magistrates without any reference to the Ministry of Justice on the other hand, he believes that this provision of the law should be amended so that no incarceration is ordered by the magistrate until a full investigation has been conducted by the police. 

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