Liberia: Chief Justice Defends Shutting Bar President Up, But Legal Luminaries Give Divergent Views
Monrovia – As Chief Justice Francis Korkpor defends his action of stopping the President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) while he was speaking on Monday, May 20, several legal luminaries have expressed their disagreement with the Chief Justice’s defense.
Report by Kennedy L. Yangian, [email protected]
As the LNBA President, Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, spoke at the program for the seating of Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba, the Chief Justice interrupted and stopped him speaking further.
Associate Justice Kaba replaced the former impeached Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh.
Cllr. Gongloe’s speech was interrupted and ordered stop by the Chief Justice when he referred to the Bill of Impeachment that was drawn against the former Associate Justice by the House of Representatives.
According to him, the Bar, which is a professional body for all practicing lawyers in the country, maintains that Ja’neh’s removal was unconstitutional.
Speaking on behalf of the Bar, Cllr. Gongloe stated: “The Senate violated Article 73 of the Constitution. The removal of a Justice for performing a legal justice creates a precedent that has the potential of making other judges, especially of subordinate courts to be afraid to freely perform their legal duties when it comes to cases in which the interest of government or powerful persons or entities are involved thereby defeating the purpose for which courts exist in our system of government.”
As soon as he had made this statement, which is on page one of a three-page speech, the Chief Justice banged his gavel on his desk, which signaled to the learned Counselor that he should immediately stop. So, he didn’t deliver his full speech, which included a caution to the Full Bench of the Supreme Court to standup in defense of the rights of each other against any illegal action from the Executive or the Legislature.
Also included in Gongloe’s unread portion of his speech would have been, “I should be in a joyous mood celebrating for the elevation of Justice Kaba, as my former student during undergraduate studies at the University of Liberia in the 1980s; I cannot because another former student of mine, Justice Ja’neh was removed unconstitutionally.”
On Wednesday, May 22, through the office of the Director of Judicial Public Information, Att’y Darryl Ambrose Nmah, in defense of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court stated, in a release, that the action of the Chief Justice was in no way an endeavor to hinder the fundamental rights of any person as reported by the dailies.
According to Nmah, two particular newspapers, which headlined that the Chief Justice’s action was to stifle free expression was “unfair to the Judiciary.”
The Supreme Court maintained that Chief Justice Korkpor’s action to stop the Bar President’s speech was in line with the protocol of the high court.
Att’y Nmah added that it is an established rule and protocol of the Supreme Court of Liberia that at an official opening of each term of the high court or at a formal judicial program held at the court, those who speak in response to the Chief Justice’s address or remarks, must confine themselves to what the Chief Justice had spoken to.
“The opportunity given (usually to the Minister of Justice/Attorney General and Dean of the Supreme Court Bar and the President of the Liberian National Bar Association) is not intended to create a platform for the introduction of extraneous matters,” said the Supreme Court release.
According to Nmah, where the protocol is not followed, the non-conforming speaker is ordered to dis-continue his/her speech. “This was exactly what happened when the President of the Bar veered from the matter at hand into his personal agenda during the seating of Associate Justice.”
Commenting further, Director Nmah indicated that Cllr. Gongloe legally represented one of the parties involved in the impeachment saga.
Cllr. Gongloe represented four senators, who sought a prohibition from the high court against their 19 colleague senators’ action for amending Senate Rule #63, an act which the four (4) senators considered “unconstitutional”.
“When he realized that he had made a grave mistake, instead of withdrawing and amending his pleading and filing an amended pleading as provided by law, he compounded the problem by filing ‘joinder’. In other words, he determined that the individual Senators should remain as parties and that he would join the Liberian Senate to the action at the level of the Supreme Court. But under Liberian law, joinder is not permissible at the Supreme Court. Because of these and other irregularities and legal blunders, the action was dismissed by the Supreme Court,” the High Court’s release states.
Further in their defense, Nmah accused Cllr. Gongloe of taking the matter personal and has “embarked on his personal agenda to bring the Court to public disrepute which is against the ethics of the legal profession.”
However, in defense of Cllr. Gongloe that he breached the protocol of the Supreme Court, many legal luminaries who spoke to this newspaper on the basis of anonymity disagreed with the Chief Justice’s stance.
One of them stated that only on the opening of each term of court that the Chief Justice’s speech is distributed to the Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court and Bar President two days ahead of the speech for review so that both of them can speak on the issues outlined in the speech but on ordinary occasion either of them can speak on any issues related to the Judicial System.
“It has never happened in the history of the LNBA since its formation in 1907 for any Chief Justice to stop a Bar President’s speech no matter how unpleasant that speech is as in the case of Gongloe,” said one of the legal luminaries. This person further asked historian to prove him wrong and show the record or the reference.
Another lawyer added that the Chief Justice violated the right of the Bar President to free speech on Monday by stopping him.