Lawyers as Guardians of Civil Society and Perfectors of Democracy

A Speech Delivered by

Ishmael P. Campbell

The Perspective

Posted: December 10, 2001

Note: Address delivered by Cllr. Ishmael P. Campbell, President , Montserrdado County Bar Association

Her Honour Gloria M. Musu Scott, Chief Justice and Installing Officer, Cllr. Henry Reide Cooper, Guest Speaker, Cllr. Marcus Jones, Acting President, Liberia National Bar Association, Circuit Judges and Judges of Specialized Courts here present, Fellow Colleagues, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.

We consider it an immense pleasure and honor bestowed upon us by our beloved colleagues and brethren of the Montserrado County Bar. May we in this public manner express our deepest thanks and sincere appreciation to you all for the unfetterred confidence reposed in us as evidenced by your vote for us to steer the affairs of the Montserrado County Bar. We are once more very delighted and thankful to you for this kind gesture. Our dear brothers and sisters of the Montserrado County Bar, may we assure you that we shall discharge resolutely and painstakingly the duties of our offices so as to justify the confidence and trust you unreservedly reposed in us. More than this, we shall endeavor to improve the status quo of this August Body so as to bring credit not only to us but the entire membership of this Bar and the Liberia National Bar Association.

Fellow colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, for seven long years our country and people were engulfed in a brutal civil war that led to the destruction of millions of dollars worth of property as well as the killing of over 250,000 Liberians and foreigners including the exodus of over 700,000 Liberian refugees into neighboring West African countries and beyond. We were finally rescued by our West African brothers and sisters under the auspices of the ECONOMIC COMMUNITY FOR WEST AFRCIAN STATES (ECOWAS) and the International community for which we are today enjoying relative peace in country, though very fragile at this point in time.

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, considering the fragile situation we find ourselves in today, we have the pleasure to speak to you on the topic: "LAWYERS AS GUARDIANS OF CIVIL SOCIETY AND PERFECTORS OF DEMOCRACY."

It is a truism that the legal profession is considered the first among all professions. Men and women who find themselves in this profession are regarded as people of sound reasoning powers and judgement. Lawyers are the cream and conscience of human society. That is why when lawyers speak, people think twice.

Having said this, it is our duty and sacred responsibility to perfect and safeguard not only the interests of our clients but to also ensure that Democracy prevail in our society. Our brothers and sisters, to adequately position ourselves to perfect democracy in our country, we, lawyers, must be actively involved in the day-to-day activities of civil society and government, that is to say, we should and must take the FRONT SEAT instead of the BACK SEAT. Lawyers must take the front seat to ensure that there is effective and efficient collaboration and cooperation between civil society and government. Let us take the front seat to ensure that the RULE OF LAW, which is the salient pillar of sustainable democracy and a guarantor of peace, harmony and tranquility, as well as unity in every human society, is adhered to accordingly. Let us take the front seat to ensure that the Constitution which is the organic law of the land is respected and protected by all and sundry. Brothers and Sisters, by the taking of the front seat, we mean that lawyers must be fully involved in administering the affairs of the Legislative Branch of Government, the Executive as well as the Judiciary. That is, we must contest for seats in the House of Representatives and the House of Senate to make sure that good laws in the interest of the state and society are promulgated. Lawyers involvement in the Legislature will ensure that the doctrine of separation of powers as enshrined in our Constitution is well respected and practicalized to the fullest. When lawyers are present in the Legislature, this will lead to an effective democratic process that will provide checks and balances and thereby limit the excessive abuse of power, corruption, dictatorial and authoritarian tendencies.

We need lawmakers who are prepared to institute impeachment proceedings whenever the President grossly violates the Constitution thereby avoiding the use of unconstitutional means to unseat government and also avoid the destruction of lives and properties. For example, the present Legislature with a membership of not less than 100 members has only two lawyers, all in the House of Senate.

As perfectors of democracy and guardians of civil society, it is also imperative and urgently necessary that lawyers take positions of trust in the Executive Branch of Government including but not limited to the Ministry of Justice. Realizing that the Executive Branch of Government is the enforcer of the law, custodian of immense power and the HOME OF TROUBLE, it is necessary that lawyers take up responsibilities in said branch of government so as to help curb the constant violation of human rights, abuse of power and other excesses of this important arm of Government,
especially violations of the organic laws of the land, the Constitution. Let us remind you that excessive abuse of power, wanton disregard for Constitutional provisions and other Statutory laws as well as international conventions, treatises and practices are contributing factors to the quagmire our Country finds itself in always. The involvement of lawyers in strategic positions in the Executive Branch of Government will help curtail human right abuses and
promote Good Governance, Democracy and Peace for the fact that lawyers are independent and will not easily be pushed around.

It is also important to note that the private sector should not be left unattended. We must promote both the public and private interests in order to ensure and guarantee social harmony.

Let us therefore send a clarion call to our fellow brethren of the Bar to take the front seat. Wake up lawyers, stand up to protect democracy and guard civil society, wake up to the task of rebuilding our country and ensuring durable peace. Wake up and leave the back seat. For too long we have been used to prepare protocols, agreements and other legal instruments and leave the implementation of these with other persons in different professions. We have found out that these documents are often misinterpreted and found wanting in implementation. We must also involve ourselves in the implementation of these instruments.

Fellow colleagues, we are not only trained to man the Judiciary, we are equally prepared to take responsibilities in other branches of Government. While it is true that we can play our role in ensuring an independent and credible judicial system, we must strengthen the body-politic as a whole by our involvement in other branches. If we take the front seat, we will ensure that the courts are not tied to the apron strings of the Executive, that the courts are free of Executive and Legislative whims and caprices, that the fundamental liberties of the human person are protected in line with DUE PROCESS OF LAW, and we will ensure that we guide civil society and perfect democracy. Just as no nation-state is an island, the legal profession is not an island. As guardians of civil society, we have a sacred duty to collaborate with other professionals and members of the society at large so as to ensure that we live in a free, democratic and safe society. We must make ourselves available to the masses of our people at all times for us to appreciate more fully the direction in which the ordinary people are thinking, so that we can
guide them.

Fellow citizens, the most paramount duty of a lawyer should be to seek peace and protect the fundamental rights and liberties of the people. We must uphold and defend our country, the state and its inhabitants, for there will be no society if we fail to ensure that we have a country. We must help safe this country from collapse and destruction through the Due Process of Law. We are aware that if law and order break down, we are most often called upon to negotiate agreements, formulate peace plans, work to ensure that there is no damage control. This is why we must oppose all undemocratic means geared towards plunging our country into another circle of violence. We must therefore
denounce all undemocratic means and embrace peace and the Rule of Law.

Members of the Montserrado County Bar, we wish to assure you that we will justify the honor you have done us with condition precedent. That condition is the collective effort of all of you including both moral and financial support. You must lend us a helping hand to revamp the Bar and make it a viable Body whose presence will be felt at all times. We must work as a united body for, where we are united, we shall not fail in our duties and responsibilities to guide civil society and perfect democracy. we are convinced that we will receive your fullest support.

I conclusion, we wish to remind our colleagues to Wake Up to the challenges of the day, take the Front Seat and let us guide our society, perfect democracy and move our Country to nobler heights.


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