7 December 2012

Liberia: Complainants Must Follow Their Cases in Court to Ensure Speedy Trials

The courts, for the past three years, have been lambasted by defense lawyers and state prosecutors, including the solicitor general, for overcrowded dockets, while prisons remained jam-packed beyond capacity with mostly pretrial suspects.

There are reports that most of the detainees have neither been indicted and arraigned, while those detainees already charged and indicted await court appearance fruitlessly only to see court terms come and go without their cases being assigned for trial. The solicitor-general has repeatedly blamed crowded court dockets for the overcrowding of our prisons, and urged judges to speed up the trial of cases on their dockets.

Making rape a non-bailable offense also added injury to the plight of the judiciary. Despite the creation of a special criminal court to exclusively try rape cases, such have almost overwhelmed this court after some rape complainants began taking undue disadvantage of the non-bailable clause to make hypocritical claims against unsuspecting men, who landed in detention for months without trial or release.

Once the complainants knew persons they accused are detained, they would fail to appear in the rape court to testify against those accused of allegedly raping them.

The new phenomenon made rape cases so commonplace in 2010 that females made such complaints against men they wanted to get even with for reasons best known to them. Reports then said several hundred men languished at the Monrovia Central prison exclusively for being accused of raping women, girls or girl children.

Concerning the crowdedness of prisons, the government admitted in 2011 that it had indicted more than 100 persons held in detention but had not taken steps to try them or otherwise set them free in order to avoid violating their rights in contravention of the law.

According to section 18.2 of the criminal law says, "Anyone that is accused of an indictable offense must be indicted and tried within two terms of court".

Now, Montserrado County, Cllr. Darku Mulbah, has in uncertain terms alluded crowded dockets and prisons to the failure of complaints to pursue their cases in court.

Therefore, he is strongly urging those who have cases in various courts to appear for prosecution, warned that their failure to do so will leave the courts with no alternative but to dismiss those cases in keeping with law.

"We cannot fight your case without you. You have to come to court and testify in order to prove your case against the accused. Moreover, the defendants cannot be in jail without being on trial. So, no evidence, no trial in keeping with law," Cllr. Mulbah told reporters Wednesday at the Temple of Justice here.

Cllr. Mulbah's warning covers all criminal cases, including alleged armed robberies, theft of property, grand and petty larceny, various types of assaults for which suspects are charged and indicted for trial. He explained that the court can only try these cases when complainants are present in court to testify against the defendants. Otherwise, he affirms, in order not to violate the rights of detained suspects, the court will use the law to release suspects who have seen two court terms past them in detention without trial.

So complainants, the onus is on you not to allow criminal suspects easily get off the hook and return on the streets to continue their business as usual. Fully playing your part in the judicial process is a must.

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