Major Gaps in Access to Justice in Liberia

Mr. Harold M. Aidoo, Executive Director of IREDD

Monrovia – A stakeholders meeting on the Liberian judiciary and security sectors has been held with major players in the security sector, pleading for more support that could lead to a much-needed reforms.

The report was a roundtable discussion that focused on findings of a recent survey that uncovered several unprecedented practices in the Judiciary especially where it has to do with the rights of individuals coming in conflict with the law with specific emphasis on pre-trial detainees.

The roundtable discussion organized by the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) highlights ‘Access to Justice’ Gaps. In its findings IREDD conducted survey in 3-Counties capturing major hindrances in accessing justice in Liberia.

The survey captured prolonged detention of accused persons, huge number of cases on courts’ dockets, pre-trial detainees in prisons, suspects arbitrarily held in some police cells beyond the 48-hours timeframe, weak monitoring and supervision of courts, as well constant lateness of judicial officers to job amongst others.

Deacon Bob N. Johnson, who heads the survey project funded by the UNDP, indicated that the key objectives of the project are to strengthen the justice and security institutions in ways that enhances accountability in the delivery of their mandate, and to promote respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law.

Mr. Johnson named Magisterial courts’ daily bulletins, circuit courts’ dockets, access to lawyers by party litigants, punctuality in courtrooms by actors, and bond and bong administration, including appeal processes, criminal offenses, number of pre-trial detainees, and court and jury sitting as specific monitoring indicators during the project.

He disclosed that the project was implemented in Montserrado, mainly, the Monrovia City Court, criminal courts A and B, the magisterial courts of Bushrod, Careysburg and Arthington, and police zones 1,2,3,4, 5 and 6.

In Lofa County, he said the survey was conducted in the Voinjama Magisterial Court and the 10th judicial circuit court In Grand Gedeh County, Mr. Johnson revealed that the survey was conducted in the Zwedru Magisterial Court, the 7th Judicial Circuit Court and the Zwedru Central Police Station.

Key compelling findings, according to Deacon Johnson, established prolonged detention of accused person especially, the poor without speedy trial, 127 criminal cases on courts’ dockets, and 106 pre-trial detainees in prisons in the three project counties.

Additionally, he said it was established and verified that some of the cases have been on court dockets for nearly 12 years without trial; something he noted violates the rights of the accused. The IREDD survey project manager claimed that findings show that suspects are arbitrarily held in some police cells for more than 48 hours in violation of the law.

He made specific references to Zone 6 Police Deport in Brewerville, where suspect David Dole, 29, and Nathaniel Sirleaf, 23, were held in police cell for four to seven days before being processed to court.

“The project also established that the Arthington Magisterial Court has been without an assigned magistrate for nearly three years; this violates the rights of people in the area to access the formal justice” he revealed.

Speaking earlier, Mr. Harold M. Aidoo, Executive Director of IREDD, said the project was made possible through funding from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Mr. Aidoo used the occasion to commend all those who help to make the project a success and noted that the findings will be transmitted to the relevant stakeholders for actions to help strengthen the rule of law and access to justice in Liberia.

The occasion graced by representatives from UNDP, the Ministry of Justice, Judiciary, the Liberia National Police, the Independent National Human Rights Commission, and members of civil society organizations.