19 March 2018

Liberia: Lawyers Frown At Chief Justice's Priority On Banks' Interest Cases

Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor: "We have instructed the lower courts concerned to expedite those cases which have implications for our economy."

A decision by the Supreme Court of Liberia to give priority to cases before it in which commercial banks are plaintiffs, did not go down well with several lawyers, whose cases against some of the very banking institutions are lingering on the shelves of the Supreme Court.

Some of these cases include the over US$16M 'Action of Damages for Wrong' lawsuit, filed by Mamawa and Son, a Liberian-owned business, against the United Bank of Africa (UBA). The case, on appeal before the Supreme Court, has been undecided since 2016.

Mamawa and Son's case was heard by the Civil Law Court that ruled against the company (Mamawa and Son). However the company later appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which matter is still pending.

Another case is that involving Milad R. Hage Business Complex against Ecobank-Liberia. The Hage Business accused the bank of forging signatures of its tenants and making withdrawals in their names, resulting into the disappearance of over US$153,220.00 and L$219,000. But the bank has denied the claims.

That case is also pending at the Supreme Court on the Writ of Certiorari, filed by the bank since 2012.

Recently, during the opening of the March 2018 Term of the Supreme Court on Monday, March 12, Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor openly informed his audience, most of whom were lawyers, about his acquaintance visit paid to the Court by Central Bank Governor Milton A. Weeks.

Justice Korkpor told the gathering that Governor Weeks acquainted them (justices) with the concerns of some commercial banks operating in the country.

Weeks, Justice Korkpor said, intimated that cases involving some commercial banks that loaned huge amounts of money to individuals and institutions were stalled at the courts, including at the very Supreme Court.

During the meeting, Weeks was reported to have stressed that a few of such cases were pending before the Supreme Court while others were stalled at the lower courts.

Announcing the Supreme Court's response, Justice Korkpor informed the gathering that "We have instructed the lower courts concerned to expedite those cases which have implications for our economy."

Justice Korkpor added: "We gave the assurance that cases on appeal from the commercial banks to the Supreme Court could not be heard during the last Term of Court because we gave priority to election cases assigned this Term of Court for hearing and determination."

Immediately after Justice Korkpor's disclosure, several lawyers who requested to remain anonymous expressed serious concerns about the decision of the Chief Justice to give priority to cases in which banks are plaintiffs because of their economic implications.

"What kind of economic implications are they talking about?" a lawyer wondered, adding: "Are the justices so concerned with the banks' cases more than ours against the banks?"

The unnamed lawyer said it was high time the Justices reconsider their decision to equally include for determination cases in which the banks are defendants as opposed to singling out only those cases in which banks are plaintiffs.

Another lawyer said the decision could erode public trust in the judiciary. For the highest court to openly declare it would accord priority to cases involving banks as plaintiffs is something which, according to the lawyer's opinion, is contrary to President George Weah's pro-poor agenda.

"The poor businesses have suffered too much in the hands of banking institutions. Because of that, they went to the court for redress. So for them to say for economic implications they will consider cases in favor of the banks over the ones against them, that would not be proper," the lawyer maintained.

"This decision implies just what people have been saying: justice delayed is justice denied. Also there is no justice for the helpless and deprived poor businesses, if the justices will only look at cases in favor of the banks because of economic implications," the lawyer emphasized.

"If the Supreme Court wants to dispense transparent justice, let it also gave priority to cases against the banks for the very same economic implications," the lawyer appealed.

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