14 March 2019

Liberia: Chief Justice, Gongloe 'Clashed'

The opening of March term of Court program at the Temple of Justice last Monday witnessed Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor and the President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) 'clashing' in thoughts regarding the ongoing impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja'neh.

Chief Justice Kporkor told the gathering dominated by lawyers, magistrates, judges and other judicial actors that his presiding over the impeachment trial of Ja'neh is as a result of a mandate given him by the Liberian Constitution.

He acknowledged that the Supreme Court is going through a challenging time, something he said cannot be ignored.

"The impeachment trial going on at the Legislature involving Mr. Justice Kabineh M. Ja'neh, a member of this Court, is unprecedented in the history of our country.

To the best of my recollection, no impeachment proceeding in our nation has taken on the form of a full-blown trial before the Senate," he said.

The Chief Justice said his mandate in the trial is predicated on Article 43 of the Constitution.

He said the Liberian Senate tries the proceeding and is the sole judge of whether or not the Justice has committed an impeachable offense.

"We have no doubt that the honorable men and women of the Senate will, at the end of the trial, make a fair and just determination based on the findings," Chief Justice Korkpor said.

"The Constitution provides that the trial be conducted in keeping with due process of law. This, I see my role as the presiding officer to ensure that the trial process is in keeping with due process of law as mandated by the Constitution. But I have heard and read, and continue to hear and read many accusations, innuendoes and speculative views about my role in the process. And some of these views are coming from people who ought to know better.

As the matter is being tried, I will for now, refrain from making any substantive comments regarding my own role. But I assure that in the end the truth will emerge," he stated.

The Chief Justice said he is wrongly being criticized by those he believes ought to know better about his role in Justice Kabineh Ja'neh's impeachment trial.

But making remarks at the program, Cllr. Gongloe said Chief Justice Korkpor's role in the impeachment proceeding is not backed by the constitution.

Although Cllr. Gongloe agreed with Chief Justice Korkpor that the Supreme Court is challenged, but contended that it is because the Chief Justice is tolerating insolence from the Legislature to the High Court.

"Your honors, we agree with Mr. Chief Justice Korkpor that the court is going through a challenging period and we emphasize, a very challenging period, due to the efforts by some members of the House of Representatives to impeach his Honor Mr. Justice Kabineh M. Ja'neh," he said.

The impeachment of Justice Ja'neh, according to him, is the second time that a member of the Supreme Court bench is going such proceeding.

"The member of the Supreme Court Bench to ever be impeached, since 1847, was Chief Justice Chea Cheapo in 1987.

For the jailing of Judge Harper Bailey, the Chief Justice was impeached almost unanimously by the Senate.

The only Senator who voted to acquit him was Senator David Menyongai of Margibi County.

Although, Chief Justice Cheapo tendered in his resignation, President Samuel K. Doe rejected his resignation and rather chose to impeach him.

It was a challenging moment for the Supreme Court, as it is today," he observed.

Cllr. Gongloe argued that what makes the impeachment proceeding against Justice Ja'neh more challenging for the Court is that the Bill of Impeachment on which he is being tried is a product of defiance by some members of the House of Representatives, of the alternative Writ of Prohibition issued by a Justice of the Supreme Court sitting in Chambers, acting under the authority of the law.

Continuing, he said the trial is challenging because the full bench of the Supreme Court did not consider the defiance of the presiding Justice's order as a defiance of the entire Bench, adding "in our view, the failure of any individual, group of individuals, or any department or branch of government to honor an order of this Court undermines the rule of law and threatens the peace, security and development of this country.

Here lies the real challenge."

He said it is exasperating that the impeachment of Justice Ja'neh began with a list of actions or conducts which he thinks are not impeachable offenses.

"Two of the actions listed have direct links to this Court. In one case Mr. Justice Ja'neh was a party in a case decided by the Supreme Court.

In the other, he was performing a judicial duty in which his decision was subject to review by the entire Bench.

Yet, Justice Ja'neh is being subjected to a hearing for matters that both the bench and a Justice in Chambers are protected by the Constitution of Liberia for," he said.

The tough-talking Bar President said the history of Liberia will record that the Chief Justice whose Bench was disrespected by some members of the House of Representatives chose to preside over an impeachment proceeding which was based on a total disrespect for authority of the Supreme Court.

He maintained that the impeachment trial is not only challenging, but troubling because it has the potential of bringing the bar of impeachment so low, that it may serve as a precedent for the easy impeachment and removal of elected and other high officials of government, which does not exclude the Chief Justice and other members of the bench, who can only be removed by impeachment.

"It is challenging because it promises future instability in government. We can only hope that the Senate will save this country where this Court failed on this matter," he emphasized.

He claimed that the Supreme Court is partially responsible for the over 250,000 lives that were lost as a result of the 14 years of brutal civil war because of its failure to play its role accordingly.

"Your Honors, this Court is the only source of hope for the survival of our democracy and the sustenance of peace and security in our country.

The LNBA will support and cooperate with your honors as long as you perform your duty as the custodian of our democracy, peace and security.

We must always remind ourselves, that this Court shares the blame for the more than 250,000 people that were killed in Liberia during the civil conflict.

Had this Court plays its part well, in the past, Liberia would not have descended into conflict. We urge the current bench not to allow itself to be similarly judged in the future," he added.

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