10 August 2017

Liberia's Impeachment War Intensifies As Legislature Rejects High Court Prohibition

Photo: Liberian Observer
Liberian Supreme Court justices and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Monrovia — A legal wrangle between the lower house of Liberia's National Legislature and the Supreme Court heightened Thursday when the House of Representatives rejected a motion for prohibition filed by the supreme Court against impeachment proceedings by the House of Representatives

The hardly-contentious affair recorded 27 votes in favor, four against and two abstentions.

After the reading of the communication of the Prohibition from the high court, Representative Gabriel Nyenkan( Unity Party, District No. 11, Montserrado County), one of the sponsors of the impeachment proceedings, declared that in the wake of what he described as unnecessary infusion of the judiciary branch to order the first branch of government to halt in the performance of its constitutional duty, moved that the communication be considered trashed.

The controversy hit high gear Tuesday when the House Committee on Judiciary submitted its preliminary report on the petition for the impeachment of his Honor Kabineh Ja' Neh, Her Honor Jamesetta Howard-Wollokollie and his Honor Philips A.Z. Banks all three being associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

The House Judiciary committee in its report to plenary further stated that in the absence of any rules governing impeachment proceedings and given that there is no precedence for it, the Judiciary committee has drafted a resolution which sets out the rules for the impeachment of the three Associate Justices, giving them due process and the right to legal representation in keeping with the dictates of Constitution.

On Wednesday, the high court responded with a summon of its own, demanding the lower house to appear before the other on the same day, Friday, August 18, 2017, as it was ordered to appear for a possible showdown over an embarrassing impeachment proceeding.

The issue has created a rift between the three branches of government - The Executive, Judiciary and the Legislative, spurring fears that it may lead to a government lockdown and possible postponement of the elections in October.

According to the Supreme Court, under Article 66 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of Liberia is the final arbiter of all disputes and hence any attempt by any person or institution, including any of the other branches of government to review the final decision or judgment of the Supreme Court, as being attempted by the Judiciary Committee of the House is an attempt to circumvent the Constitution of Liberia.

The Supreme Court contended that by virtue of Article 73 of the Constitution, the House's decision is without the force of the law and therefore challenged the House to appear before the full bench of the Supreme Court to defend the constitutionality of their action.

"The further question growing out of the foregoing is whether the Legislature has the constitutional power to intervene in a matter between two parties, which matter is appealed to the Supreme Court and upon which the Supreme Court has made a final judgment?" they asked rhetorically.

The Liberia National Bar Association has joined a chorus of rejections by the decision of the lower house to impeach the justices of the high court.

Cllr. Moses Paegar, LNBA President at a press conference held at the Law Library on Ashmun Street, Wednesday stated that the LNBA, as per its constitution, mandates it to help maintain the independence of the Judiciary, referencing that the LNBA has taken stance on issue in the past. "The LNBA believes that the ongoing attempt by the Legislature to have Associate Justices, Janeh, Wolokollie, and Banks impeached requires and compels it to once again take a public position because this attempt is an obvious, frontal, an unwarranted attack both on the Constitution and the independence of the Judicial Branch of Government," said Cllr. Paegar.

FrontPageAfrica has meanwhile gathered that both lawmakers and the high court justices are currently meeting at the Council of Churches in Sinkor in a bid to find common ground on the controversy which in the view of many legal and political observers, poses grave dangers to the upcoming presidential elections and the immediate political future of the post-war nation, on the last leg of its transition from war to peace.

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