21 March 2019

Liberia: Ja'neh Links Full Bench of Supreme Court to Oil Deal Withdrawal

Justice Ja'neh takes oath as witness at the impeachment trial

In his cross-examination testimony on Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at the Senate on Capitol Hill, embattled Associate Justice Kabineh Mohammad Ja'neh told Jurors (Senators) that all five Supreme Justices, including the Chief Justice, approved and signed the document decided by the government and oil companies involved in the Road Fund Case to withdraw the matter from the High Court.

He then wondered, "why is Justice Ja'neh the only one on trial?"

Justice Ja'neh went through the third day of cross-examination under intense non-stop seven hours grilling from the Senators (jurors), especially from Senators H. Varney Sherman and Augustine Chea, who used more than two hours of that period to cross-examine Ja'neh.

He defended that his action to send the Road Fund case petition to the full Supreme Court Bench was in line with the Constitution, and the function of a Justice in Chambers purely based on constitutional controversy. Ja'neh emphasized that questions of how much money was already collected through the Road Fund project was not part of his decision to seek the full bench attention.

He said to even reawaken that decision by the Supreme Court, and include it in the current impeachment proceedings, is a violation of the Constitution, which he said stipulates that any legal decision taken by the Supreme Court and lower courts cannot be called into questioned or revised by any of the other two branches of the Constitution. "The same privilege is accorded to legislators, while performing their functions in Chambers."

Arguing for the House of Representatives that filing a petition seeking a writ of prohibition from the Supreme Court was intended to bring the two branches at loggerhead, and as such, it constitutes a ground for impeachment, Justice Ja'neh said: "I believe that any Liberian who feels aggrieved is at liberty to seek judicial redress, including members of the judiciary. I know no law that prevents a person from doing so, or that doing so constitutes a misconduct."

Asked by Senator Oscar Cooper whether one can impeach a Justice or Justices of the Supreme Court for their opinion and constitute action of impeachment, especially with respect to the Road Fund Case, Justice Ja'neh maintained that the impression he is getting now is that when an honest citizen of Liberia files a petition before a court of law questioning the conduct of the Legislature, you must be very careful in even ordering a conference.

"Under the Liberian Constitution, when a judge refuses to issue habeas corpus, it damages who will be brought before that judge . Under the Constitution, any conduct, action taken by a judge in the normal course of his duty is not a subject of review or sanction by any authority in this Republic. Those who wrote our Constitution were of the view that when you begin to hold judges for what they say or do, then the independence required to do this job as contemplated by the Constitution is effectively removed," Ja'neh told the hearing.

He added, "if we don't like the law, we change it, but as long as it remains in the book, they are the laws of Liberia."

Asked again as to whether the Legislature has the power to retry a case that has already been decided upon by the entire Bench of the Supreme Court, like in the case of the Anne Yancy Constance land case, Justice Ja'neh explained that the law in this jurisdiction is that a matter decided by even a Magisterial Court, Justice of the Peace Court "which courts are at the lowest echelon of our judicial system cannot be a proper subject of a review by either the Executive Branch, or the Legislative Branch of the government; not to talk about a decision rendered by the honorable Supreme Court, that is the law."

Once the Supreme Court has decided a matter, whether it is by a motion to dismiss, or a review of the records on the merit to the extend that the rights of the parties have been determined, Justice Ja'neh maintained the matter is decided, and that case is closed. "And therefore, there can be no authority by any branch of government to reopen that case."

"Those who wrote our Constitution had good reasons for putting it in the way they did it. In our court system judges, who have the same ranking, circuit judges for example, whatever a colleague does in terms of rendering a decision or taking an action, even if that action was wrong, you as a circuit judge of that same ranking, will have no authority to review that action or decision. There is no law in this jurisdiction that gives the Executive branch or any other branch the authority to review what has been done by the honorable Supreme Court of Liberia. If we were to allow that, then we will only be welcoming chaos."

Justice Ja'neh has been finally discharged from the stand, while the proceedings continues.

Meanwhile Retired Associate Justice Philip A. Z.Banks, is yet to be called on the stand as 'expert witness' for the respondent.

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