Liberia: Supreme Court's Credibility Questioned Over Ja'neh's Impeachment

Minutes after it was established that Speaker Bhofal Chambers had ignored the August 18 deadline to submit the House of Representative to a stay order imposed by the Supreme Court on the impeachment proceedings of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja'neh, lawyers opined that the action tended to expose the credibility and integrity of the High Court to public ridicule.

Those lawyers (name withheld) who spoke with the Daily Observer in the wake of the Prohibition order, termed it as a demonstration of the inability of the Supreme Court bench to handle crucial constitutional issues and to perform their responsibility, as provided for under the Constitution.

Recently, Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, who currently serves as Justice-in-Chambers, ordered House Speaker Bhofal Chambers to place a hold on impeachment proceedings against Associate Justice Kabineh J'aneh until she had looked into the merits of Ja'neh's petition. Ja'neh's lawyers had argued that his due rights to "Due Process" had been violated by House Speaker Chambers when he, rather than referring the matter to the House Judiciary Committee, instead set up an Ad Hoc Committee to prepare a Bill of Impeachment.

"And all parties are ordered to return to status quo ante, pending the disposition of the Writ of Prohibition," Yuoh's instruction stated.

Justice Yuoh did not just stop there, she also instructed the lawmakers to file their response to Ja'neh's petition before or on August 18, 2018. Speaker Chambers and his colleagues, however, thrashed Justice Yuoh's "Stay Order" during their Tuesday, August 14, 48th day sitting of members of that august body.

A lawyer, when asked about his views on the matter, said: "It was bad enough for politicians to have corrected mistakes made by our Justices, because the Court does not have the power to interfere with political matters like the impeachment proceedings of Justices." Another lawyer said he believes that the credibility of the High Court, built up over several decades, has crumbled and it did so in just days based on what he said was a flagrantly flawed decision taken by Justice Yuoh.

Article 71 of the Constitution stipulates "that the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the Judges of subordinate courts of record shall hold office during good behavior. They may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes."

The Constitution provides little guidance as to what offenses constitute grounds for the impeachment of justices and judges: as with other government officials, judges may be removed following impeachment and conviction for "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanor."

The Constitution also says in Article 43, the power to impeach rests solely in the Legislature and it begins with a Bill of Impeachment from the House of Representatives. The Bill is then tried by the Senate to determine, based on Constitutional provisions, whether there are indeed sufficient grounds for Impeachment.

"What Justice Yuoh's action has done is to sour relations between the Judiciary and the Legislature and tends to undermine public trust and confidence in the Judiciary.

"How can the public possibly retain any piece of faith in the integrity and competency of the Supreme Court, when the highest judicial body and the highest judicial authority do something like this?" a senior lawyer wondered.

Another lawyer, whose views slightly differed with his colleagues, said the lawmakers' deliberate refusal to respect the Supreme Court August 18 deadline constitutes a constitutional crisis.

"If the legislature that makes the law for the Supreme Court to interpret cannot respect each other's authority then where is the country heading? The senior lawyer asked.

"Are we not heading for a constitutional crisis? Aren't they undermining the rule of law, or are we not heading into total chaos without the two branches of government respecting each other?" the senior lawyer lamented.

It can be recalled that confrontation between some members of the House of Representatives and Justices of the Supreme Court started in July this year, when a petition signed by the acting chairman of the ruling CDC in Montserrado County, Representative Thomas P. Fallah of District #5, and Representative Acarous Gray of District 8, a staunch member of the CDC, called for Justice Ja'neh's impeachment.

In a communication to Speaker Chambers, the two CDC lawmakers argued that Justice Ja'neh should be impeached, ousted and removed from the Supreme Court of Liberia on grounds of "proven misconduct, abuse of public office, wanton abuse of judicial discretion, fraud, misuse of power and corruption."

Shortly afterwards, on Tuesday, July 17, a Bill of Impeachment Petition, together with a motion, was submitted by Grand Kru County District #1 Representative Nathaniel Barway and that submission received a favorable vote in the House of Representatives.

In an apparent attempt to fast track his colleagues' submission, Speaker Chambers then set up an 8-man Ad-Hoc Committee to review and investigate the Impeachment Bill as well as to write-up the process the proceedings were to take.

That committee was given three weeks, as of July 17, to begin work and report to Plenary.

The committee is chaired by Gbarpolu County District# 2 Representative Karnie Wesso and co-chaired by Bong County District #5 Representative Edward Karfiah.

Others are Representative Dickson Seboe of District 16, in Montserrado County; Representative Jeremiah Koung of District #1, Nimba County; Representative Dr. Isaac Roland of District 3, Maryland County; Representative Clarence Gahr of District #5, Margibi County; and Representative Rustonlyn S. Dennis of District#4, Montserrado County.

Surprisingly, while members of the committee were still reviewing their task and terms of reference, Justice Yuoh commanded to be issued a Writ of Prohibition ordering them to stay all further proceedings in the matter.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has completely ignored Justice Yuoh's Prohibition order and continued on course with Ja'neh's impeachment proceedings.


Abednego Davis

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