Liberia: Halting Gongloe 'Was in Line With Supreme Court's Protocol'

-Supreme Court defends Chief Justice Korkpor's chastisement of Bar Association President

Days after Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor publicly chastised the president of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe, for remarks made during the official seating of newly appointed Associate Justice Yussif Kaba on the Bench of the Supreme Court, the chief justice on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, saw it necessary to defended his action.

In a release issued on Wednesday, the Supreme Court says the action of Chief Justice Korkpor was in line with the protocol of the court.

"It is an established rule and protocol of the Supreme Court that at the official opening of each Term of Court or at formal judicial program held at the court, those who speak in response to the Chief Justice's addresses or remarks must confine themselves to what the Chief Justice has spoken on," the release said. The Supreme Court statement aimed to defend Korkpor decision to halt Gongloe, whose remarks called in to question the integrity of the Supreme Court.

According to the release, the opportunity to speak at such high judicial function is given usually to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Dean of the Supreme Court Bar and the President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) and "is not intended to create a platform for the introduction of extraneous matters."

"If the protocol was not followed," the Supreme Court release added, "the nonconforming speaker was ordered to discontinue his or her speech, stressing, 'This is exactly what happened when the President of the Bar veered from the matter at hand into his own personal agenda during the seating of Associate Justice Yussif Kaba.'"

During his remarks, which were suddenly interrupted by the Chief Justice, Cllr. Gongloe emphasized that the official position of LNBA has been, and still is that the removal of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja'neh was "unconstitutional."

"The LNBA maintains that the bill of impeachment was a product of the violation of a court order, that the impeachment was done without a procedure prescribed by the legislature as required by Article 43 of the Constitution," Gongloe noted.

He added, "and that by the removal of Ja'neh for performing his legal duty, the senate violated Article 73 also of the constitution."

According to Gongloe, the removal of Ja'neh for performing a legal duty creates a precedent that has the potential of making other judges, especially of subordinate courts to be afraid of freely preforming their legal duties when it comes to cases in which the interests of government or powerful persons or entities are involved, which he said "defeats the purpose for which courts exist in our system of governance."

On the issue of media report about Chief Justice Korkpor's actions, the Supreme Court release said, they see it as being "unfair the Front Page banner headline of the Daily Observer newspaper captioned, "Chief Justice Korkpor Stifles Free Expression? ... Interrupts LNBA President Gongloe's remarks in unprecedented fashion," and the banner headline of the New Democrat newspaper captioned, "Gongloe Faces Public Speaking Ban," which insinuated that the action of the Chief Justice was to stifle free expression."

According to the release, the current Supreme Court Bench prides itself as being perhaps the most open and tolerant bench in the history of the Court, and will never endeavor to hinder the fundamental rights of any person.

"The public will agree that there have been numerous false publications about the court, and in particular about its administrative head, the Chief Justice, without any reaction of reprisal," the release noted.

They further noted that this does not show any sign of weakness, "but the level of tolerance the court has reached in observing the right of all to free speech. But the Chamber of the court being a sacred place, cherished by all, must be kept reserved and preserved."

The release continues, "It cannot and will not be reduced to an arena where lawyers, who have lost a case will vent their anger. When a lawyer loses a case he or she may not agree with the decision, but he is obliged to comply with and abide by that decision of the Supreme Court."

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