Dispensing Justice for All
By: A. Bob Fallah
Worst of it, the introduction of coup d’-tat and rebel activities have thrown away justice and the rule of law in Liberia. Not to reference the past Liberians went to the polls late last year to put in place a democratic system which will reintroduce what is known as the rule of law where justice will be acknowledged at all levels.
With the known fact that all sectors of the country including the judiciary were destroyed as a result of the Liberian conflict, the President in her reconstruction agenda has put into place a judiciary team to implement the “Law”.
Madam Sirleaf made the assertion during the induction of members of the Supreme Court recently. Under this column, we write to reflect the President’s remarks.
She called on members of the judiciary in the country to remain at all times impartial and be focused while dispensing justice.
Madam Sirleaf charged the newly inducted members of the third branch of government to do nothing that would hinder justice in her favor as long as she is the president.
“As president of the nation, I shall need no favor from the courts” Madam Sirleaf declared.
She said for long time, the judiciary has been operating under the influence of the Executive Branch of government, something she vowed not to do as president.
Speaking further, the Liberian leader said, the nation (Liberia) was established
on the principle of the rule of law, beginning with the colonial years in
the 1820s, through the declaration of the independence in 1847, during which
governance by law was a critical pillar of “our nation’s building
“The notion that the weak and the poor are at most times the victims of injustice will be totally erased during our administration,” she declared, pledging to give the true meaning to the sacred justice principle “Let justice be done to all.”
“I therefore see the court faced with the task of changing its image as a tribunal of justice only for the rich and powerful, and as a forum for pleasing the president to a tribunal that it is fair and just to all our people,” the president asserted.
Accordingly, her delight as president will not come from a judgment rendered in favor of government because it would seek to please the president, “rather, my joy will come when the court renders a decision that is just, a decision that makes sense and can withstand the legal test; a decision that is non respecter of persons…”
The court, Madam Sirleaf said, must proceed in accordance with Article 11 ‘C’ of the constitution of Liberia which states that “all persons are equal before the law, and are therefore entitled to equal protection from the court,” adding the court must be based on the fact of law, irrespective of who appears before it, be it poor or rich.
Recently, the International Contact Group (ICG) based in Brussels released reports on Liberian Justice System. The group said: “Impunity prevails, and in this atmosphere, the government cannot adequately address economic governance, transformation of the military and reconstruction of war-scarred physical infrastructure.
“The justice system is in shambles, with courts that refuse to prosecute those pillaging the government coffers. In many parts of the country the judiciary has collapsed altogether, and ex-combatants insist that no court has jurisdiction over them. More than a decade of civil war has pulverized what was already a dysfunctional system, and it will take even longer to rebuild it.
“Liberians remain uninformed of their rights and how to pursue them. Even before the conflict, the justice system suffered from an historical lack of independence from the executive and failed to operate as an impartial forum since access to it was dependent on economic or social capital.
“Magistrates conduct hearings on their balconies or in private homes because of crumbling or demolished courthouses. Prisoners languish for months and years in pre-trial detention because the courts lack personnel, bookkeeping, and case management skills. Low salaries and deplorable working conditions for judges, magistrates and justices of the peace nurture widespread corruption. Magistrates’ courts often apply civil procedure in criminal cases because they lack relevant legal texts. Justices of the peace, many illiterate, operate renegade justice forums after being instructed to cease hearing cases. Judicial officers are helpless as ex-combatants on the lawless Guthrie Plantation brazenly insist no court has jurisdiction over them.
“Reform of the justice system can succeed if the government puts it permanently on the reform agenda, community-based approaches to justice are taken and donors deliver money quickly and in sufficient quantities. Liberia was the catalyst for West Africa’s deadly wars. A Liberia driven by the unwavering principal of justice could become the anchor of its peace,” the group said.