17 December 2012

Liberia: No More Trial for Rape Suspects

Government is contemplating using the DNA model to establish the guilt or innocence of people accused of rape offences instead of relying on the court to adjudicate the matter, Justice Minister Christiana P. Tah has disclosed.

She told an assembly of the police hierarchy in Monrovia Saturday, attended by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf that arrangements were at their final stage with Ghanaian authorities for a laboratory facility that will be conducting DNA tests for Liberian suspects implicated in rape crimes.

Legal experts say the Justice Minister's disclosure appears to mean that there will be no more trial for rape suspects. After the DNA report has been received from Ghana, she said suspects will only be referred to the courts in Liberia to receive their sentences if the DNA test implicates them or judgment of acquittal if they are innocent.

She said the rationale behind the new measure is to decongest cases on the crowded dockets and speed up the hearings.

The Justice Minister told the police that Sweden has promised to provide funding for the Liberian project. "The Swedish Government has promised us some money for forensic as it relate to Sexual Gender Base Violate (SGBV) here.

"We've gone ahead with a team in Ghana that does the DNA test. We just received our first reports which are positive meaning that an individual who commits rape will be identified by DNA test.

"When this is done, there will be no need for a panel jury or regular trial. We will just set a date for the individual to be sentenced.

"Moreover, it also helps to reduce the crowd dockets in court which will help significantly in speeding up some of these cases here," she pointed out.

The Attorney General made the statement at the Police Headquarter where she and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf have gone to form part of the police regular general assembly.

She also informed the police about a new development that has occurred concerning minors who testify in court. They will now testify in camera and their testimonies will be viewed in court on the television screen, she said.

"We have brought in-camera facility for young children to be able to testify in court because most of the victims are minors.

"We sometime loose cases because parents do not want the children to be traumatized by coming to court to testify.

"Now we have in-camera for all 15 counties where they will be in a room at the back of the court testifying and screening in court that everyone can see will improve prosecution significantly," she stressed.

The Justice Minister's statement came after the Women and Children Protest Department recorded a total of 1,826 cases from January to November 2012 .

According to the report, 369 cases were sexual gender based violence, 917 were domestic violence, and 540 were related offenses as compared to 2011 where the section recorded and investigated 2,359 cases.

In the 1,826 cases which were reported from January to November of this year, 412 were forward to court for prosecution representing 34% while 239 are still under investigation.

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