16 October 2017

Liberia: Special Judiciary Task Force to Review Cases of Pre-Trial Detainees

Monrovia — Pre-trial detainees in detention centers in Montserrado and Margibi Counties are to have their cases reviewed.

This was disclosed Monday to this paper by a member of the Special Judiciary Task Force, who asked for anonymity as he wasn't authorized to speak with the media.

The Special Judiciary Task Force, which comprised of judges, the Independence Human Rights Commission (INHCR) and the Ministry of Justice, was setup recently by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to review cases of pre-trial detainees, who have been held in detention centers in two counties, Montserrado and Margibi Counties.

FrontpageAfrica was told that the task force was given the mandate to review cases of rape and armed robbery ranging as far back from 2009 to 2015.

"The special task force will resume work this week; it will be reviewing cases of pre-trial detainees. At the end of its revision, make recommendations to the Chief Justice," said the source, who is within the prosecuting arm of the Ministry of Justice.

The setting up of the Judiciary Task Force by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor came at the end of the Judiciary retreat held in Gbarnga early this year.

The Gbarnga's retreat brought together several judiciary actors from across the country to discuss the challenges facing the Judiciary in the dispensation of Justice, with pre-trial detention topping the agenda of the retreat.

The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General (DSRSG) of the United Nations for the Rule of Law, Mr. Waldemar Vrey, who was also in attendance, expressed disappointment in the high number of pre-trial detainees held in prisons across the country.

Mr. Vrey placed the figure at 69 percent.

The DSRSG told the judiciary stakeholders at the retreat that the number of pre-trial detainees held in prison facilities in the country was alarming and if nothing is done to remedy the situation could cause security risk to the country.

His statement was buttressed by the Carter Center head for Access to Justice Section, Thomas Nah Doe. Mr. Doe indicated that at the prison facilities, in Gbarnga where the retreat was held, have over 800 inmates and half of them were pre-trial detainees.

Justice Minister Federick Cherue responding to the issue of pre-trial detainees stated that it is true that there are pre-trial detainees held in various prisons in the country but whenever the Ministry frees some of those pre-trial detainees, they return to prison the next week for the same offence that they were imprisoned for.

"I don't want people to be merely stressing on this pre-trial detainees, what I want our international partners to do for us now is to come in by providing lawyers for these pre-trial detainees as another means of coming to their aids," said Justice Minister Cherue.

This is the second attempt by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to embark on an initiative aimed at minimizing the issue of pre-trial detainees. His first stance was to have magistrates visited and conducted hearings for inmates every Monday at the Monrovia Central Prison, where reports claimed that there are approximately over 600 inmates held in detention without trial.

However, the latest move by Chief Justice Korkpor to establish a Judiciary Task Force to review cases of pre-trial detainees has been welcomed by both legal and non-legal practitioners, who spoke to this newspaper.

However, some of them called on the head of the Judiciary to extend the gesture to other counties' prison facilities, and not only Montserrado and Margibi Counties.

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