21 January 2013

Liberia: Safeguard Judicial Independence


As Liberia enters this important era of the Agenda for Transformation and the Roadmap for National Reconciliation enshrined in the Liberia Rising Vision 2030, a development framework that will immensely contribute to making Liberia a middle income earning by the year 2030, it is very important that Liberians and the general public should refrain from manipulating the judiciary for personal benefits.

All over the world, the judiciary is a critical element of the democracy process. The judiciary, often referred to as the third estate after the Legislative and executive branches of government is sometimes vulnerable to manipulations by interest groups that sacrifice the national interest for the kickbacks and other benefits that they may get in brown envelopes for reasons of coercing or influencing verdicts and decisions rendered by the courts.

The judiciary in Liberia needs to take measures to thwart tendencies that have the tendency to act unprofessionally by manipulating them to take decisions under pressure. Those days are gone when, for example, the judiciary was at the mercy, whims and caprices of the executive.

In countries with dictatorship regimes where the rulers govern with an iron-fist, there is often a gross disregard for the rights of citizens and blatant abuses of public offices. In such countries the citizens live in fears, as there is no difference the personal bank accounts of the leadership and the national coffers. In such countries the judiciary is absolutely manipulated by the executive.

In this era of good governance and poverty reduction, it has been observed that one way to reduce poverty is equity before the law and social justice for all. The rule of law should always take a center stage. The necessary incentives including training and promotion on the basis of merit should be given to members of the judiciary. The process of judicial reforms to match with current realities are on course and some visitors have begun indicating that Liberia has some of the best laws embedded in the national Constitution.

The new threat that has come to public attention however is the tendency for human rights and civil society groups to influence the judicial verdicts for reasons of the kickbacks that they receive in brown envelopes from their sponsors.

The general public should be very mindful of such groups who use the motive of human rights and civil society advocacy to camouflage their real hidden agenda. Very often, such groups are quick to influence the opinions of judges, justices of the Supreme Court benches, and even the jury at moments of rendering verdicts in sensitive cases.

A glaring example of such behavior can be illustrated by the involvement of some Human Rights groups such as the Independent Civil and Human Rights Center, the ECOWAS Women Political Movement among others in the cases concerning Milad R. hage Real Estate case on the one hand and the alleged passport theft case involving an Indian woman by the name of Madam Marpue.

The question that is being asked is why are the above groups laying so much emphasis on the rendering of justice in these two cases when in fact there is no foul play suspected? What the public needs to be educated about is that it is absolutely illegal to comment on cases that are before the courts including the supreme court as such comments have the tendency to influence decisions and verdicts rendered in such cases.

Indeed the role of civil society and human rights advocacy groups should be, to capitalize on instances of injustices in the dispensation of justices, to advocate for social justice, they should serve as catalysts of national development and social justice, but not when cases are in the judicial process.

This is important because as cases arrive at such points, evidences adduced and other vital information that influence decisions including legal citations in favor of party litigants from both sides are before the judges, and not necessarily the press or other groups. Human rights and civil society groups should also be a formidable force in bringing to the attention of the general public and the authorities instances of human rights violations, vices such as corruption and nepotism.

What human rights and civil society groups should be mindful about is that where their rights end, there the rights of others begin. It is a warning to the general public and those advocating for rights that in critical moments of cases, it will be better to stay put to avoid an infringement of the law.

We therefore hope that the public will take due note and govern themselves accordingly. It is unprofessional for any civil society and human rights group to advocate in a way that influences the opinions of courts for the case of personal gains.

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