Voice of America (Washington, DC)

13 January 2014

Liberia: Supreme Court Suspends Justice Minister

Photo: Liberia Government
Justice Minister Christina Tah.

Liberia's Supreme Court has suspended the country's justice minister - Christiana Tah -- from practicing law for six months after finding her in contempt of court.

In October, the court ordered Tah to explain why she should not be held in contempt for releasing FrontPageAfrica managing editor Rodney Sieh from prison.

The court had jailed Sieh for failing to pay a $1.5 million libel fine to former agriculture minister J. Chris Toe.

Tah said then that her decision to release Sieh on "compassionate" grounds was part of her duties as attorney-general.

Tah is Liberia's chief prosecutor and legal advisor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her suspension raises questions for the government. Will the president ask the court to reconsider its decision? How effectively can Tah carry out her responsibilities without her law credentials?

Information Minister Lewis Brown said Sirleaf is aware of the court's decision and is consulting with legal experts on the government's options and rights.

"The Executive is aware of this ruling; the executive has received it; the executive recognizes its duty to enforce it. But, it is working in a way to find out what are its rights as well and, in the face of such action, what are the options available to it," he said.

Lewis said the fundamental principle of the government is to continue to build and strengthen Liberia's democracy around the rule of law.

FrontPageAfrica reports in its Monday online edition that the Supreme Court's suspension of Tah "marked only the second time in Liberia's history that a sitting Minister of Justice, who also doubles as Dean of the high court and chief legal advisor to the President, had been dealt a severe professional blow".

The paper said the only other time that this has happened was during the administration of the late President Samuel Kanyon Doe, when the late Chief Justice Emmanuel Gbalazeh suspended then Justice Minister Jenkins K.Z.B. Scott for reportedly referring to judges as 'unprofessional.'

But, according to FrontPageAfrica, Doe "prevailed on Gbalazeh to reverse his decision and pointed out that the court's ruling to revoke Scott's license amounted to removing him from office, and that only the Head of State could remove government Ministers.

Lewis would not say if Sirleaf would ask the Supreme Court to withdraw its decision to suspend Tah's license except to say that Sirleaf will continue to deepen the progress that has been made.

"One thing you can be sure is that this President, as has been done in the past, will continue to respect the line of demarcation of the court, the independence of the various branches and the duty of the court to say what the law is," Lewis said.

He said he was not sure whether Sirleaf can go for six months or even a week without a justice minister.

"That is why she has availed herself to a wide range of consultations, including with legal scholars and luminaries in the country, those who have greater depth about what our constitution says. You know, the court can make a decision, but it requires the executive to enforce the decision," Lewis said.

The Supreme Court also suspended for three months, Beyan Howard, a member of FrontPageAfrica's legal team in its Toe libel case.

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InFocus

Liberian President Seeks Advice on Minister’s Suspension

Justice Minister Christina Tah.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is in consultation with lawyers and other stakeholders about the Supreme Court decision to suspend Justice Minister Christiana Tah. Read more »