Liberia: Justice Ja’neh Fighting with the Law; Seeks Prohibition on Impeachment Trial at Senate
Monrovia – Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor could not proceed with Senate’s impeachment trial against Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh due to a motion calling on him to recuse himself from presiding for “legal and factual” reasons.
Report by Henry Karmo, [email protected]
“We have a motion that has been filed in this case for my recusal. I will hear the motion and we will listen to the argument of the motion and make the appropriate decision but we cannot do it today. We will go-ahead now and adjourn and resume Monday for the hearing of the motion to determine whether I will preside or not,” said the Chief Justice on Thursday at the Senate.
The Motion was filed Wednesday by Justice Ja’neh before the Supreme Court, calling on the Chief Justice to step aside from the impeachment hearing at the Senate “in the interest of justice and fair play”.
Returning to status quo
On Thursday morning, the team of lawyers representing Justice Ja’neh filed another petition seeking a prohibition on the impeachment trial at the Senate. They requested in the petition that the Senate’s amended Rule 63 which would have guided impeachment proceeding be trashed in line with Article 43 of the Constitution.
The petition: “Article 43 of the 1986 of the Republic of Liberia provides that the Legislature shall prescribe the procedures for impeachment which shall be in conformity with the requirement of due process of law. Petitioner submits that Chapter 5, captioned ‘the Legislature, Article 29 thereof, provides that the legislative power of the Republic shall be vested in the legislature of Liberia which shall consist of two (2) separate houses: a Senate and a House of Representatives, both of which must pass on all legislations. Accordingly, when the Constitution requires the legislature to prescribe the rules for impeachment, to conform with the requirement of due process, the Constitution contemplated that both Houses, Senate and Representatives shall jointly prescribe the rule for impeachment. Petitioner submits and says that in the absence of the enactment of the procedure for impeachment proceedings as required by Article 43 of the Constitution of Liberia, Prohibition will lie to prohibit ongoing acts and threat of future acts which are ultra vires…”
On Thursday, the Chief Justice told the opening session of the impeachment hearing Thursday that on November 15, 2018, the House of Representatives presented to the House of Senate a Bill of Impeachment for the impeachment of His Honor Kabineh M. Ja’neh, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia. I received a communication from the Liberian Senate, through the President Pro Tempore, informing me of the Bill of Impeachment and requesting that I appear today to preside over the proceeding as provided by the Constitution. “So, it is by the dictates of the Constitution that I am here.”
Chief Justice Korkpor explained that to the best of his recollection, no impeachment proceeding in Liberia has taken on the form of a full-blown trial before the Senate. “Maybe this one will. Thus, there being not much precedence we can rely on, we will be guided in this trial first and foremost by the Constitution, and then by the statutory laws and the urge to be fair and to do justice to all at all times. As the Presiding Officer, I am committed to this. I shall be in full control of the proceeding. I shall pass on all relevant applications or questions raised during trial. Both sides will be treated equally and fairly in keeping with law. The parties will only speak through their respective counsels.”
‘This is Not a Courtroom’
The Chief Justice continued: “This is not a court room, but we must ensure that the calm and serenity that prevail in courtrooms during trials prevail here. I will insist on order and timeliness. We shall meet at 10:a.m. each trial day and continue proceeding until adjourned by me. As I am in my judicial robe, I direct that henceforth, all lawyers representing the parties to this proceeding also wear their judicial robes.”
Chief Justice Korkpor further explained that the constitution requires that impeachment proceedings conform to “due process of law”. Thus, he said, it is my responsibility as the Presiding Officer, to ensure that all parties, including the Justice who is on trial are accorded due process. “Presumption of innocence is at the core of our jurisprudence and we shall respect this throughout this trial.”
The Chief Justice added: “The Constitution directs that the power to try all impeachments is vested in the Senate. The Senate is the trier of facts. This means that you, Honorable Senators, will keenly listen to the case, critically evaluate the evidence and come up with the decision whether or not the evidence that will be adduced establishes that the Justice has committed an impeachable offense. During the course of the trial, and at the appropriate time, you will question witnesses, if you so wish. Do know however, that as the Presiding Officer, I have the authority to allow or disallow any question, which in my view, will not serve the end of justice. You will please yield in the event your question is disallowed.”Augustine T. Tweh Contributed to this story.