Liberia: 'The Impact of Our Actions As Stakeholders in the Judiciary'

opinion

Judges' Charge delivered by Her Honor Nancy Finda Sammy at the opening of the November A.D. 2019 Term of Criminal Assizes A, B, C & D for Montserrado County, Monday, November 11, 2019.

His Honor Francis S. Korkor, Sr, Chief Justice, and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor Roosevelt Z. Willie, President, Officers and Members of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia, Cllr. Musa F. Dean, Attorney General, Republic of Liberia, Cllr. Tiawan Gongoloe, President, Officers and Members of the Liberia National Bar Association, Stipendiary and Associate Magistrates; Cllr. Sam Y. Cooper, President/Montserrado Bar Association, Cllr. Vivian Neal, President/Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, Cllr. Jerry Garlawolo, President/Prosecution Association of Liberia, Atty. Fojera Barchue, President/Public Defenders of Liberia, Staff, Visiting friends, Prospective Jurors; Members of the Fourth Estate, Illustrious ladies and gentlemen, One and all.

We are grateful to God for making it possible for us to be here today to witness the Opening of the November, A.D. 2019 Term of Criminal Assizes A, B,C & D for Montserrado County.

I am remarkably thrilled by you presence. Your presence here is a magnificent manifestation of your commitment to support the Rule of Law, and these Courts in particular.

Therefore, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen let me use this time to humbly welcome you all, and to register my personal honor of receiving His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. Chief Justice, and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia, the Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia, and the President of the Liberian National Bar Association, in response to our invitation to you to grace the occasion.

Honorable distinguished personalities and my dear fellow compatriots; kindly permit me to take this unique opportunity to speak to you today o the topic: "THE IMPACT OF OUR ACTIONS AS STAKEFOLDERS IN THE JUDICIARY".

Ladies and gentlemen, as we witness the formal opening of the November A.D. 2019 Term of Criminal Assizes A.B.C & D for Montserrado County, let us remind ourselves that we have embarked on an arduous but surmountable journey of dispensing justice without fear or favor being fully guided by our canons that impose upon us a charge to be impartial, temperate and attentive at all times.

We are obliged to conduct all proceedings within the ambit of the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Liberia. It is interesting to note that as judges, we have often been reminded of our statutory duties to render transparent justice for the peace and stability of our nation. We have further been reminded to render justice to avoid chaos in our society and to uphold the rule of law.

We are aware that without justice there will be no peace, without peace there will be no unity, and without unity, there will be no national development and democracy.

However, for democracy to flourish in Liberia, there has to be a strong judiciary; and to have a strong judiciary, judicial actors must act in conformity with the constitutional and statutory laws of the country.

When this is achieved, the citizens will have confidence in the judiciary and will not have to revert to mob justice as we have experienced in other parts of our country.

Hence, I want to make a passionate call to all practicing lawyers appearing before courts around the country to assist the Judiciary in this endeavor.

This call is predicated upon the fact that there are constant negative public perceptions and allegations of corruption on the part of judges and the courts.

These repeated allegations of corruption levied against judges and the Judiciary has claimed the attention of our bosses, and even us judges.

Based on the repeated allegations of corruption levied against judges and the Judiciary, some of us decided to independently conduct surveys to determine how judges and the Judiciary are corrupt.

Honorable Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Members of the Bar; Feedbacks gathered from the public, or party litigants is that lawyers usually request money from their clients, intimating to those clients that they need money to give to judges as a prerequisite for the judge to assign a case, hear it, and make ruling in their favor.

My people, because party litigants who are involved in giving money to their lawyers allegedly intended for judges, cannot directly interact with the judges to ascertain whether the assertions made by the lawyers are true: most often tend to believe the false representations made to them by their lawyers.

Therefore, the conduct of some of those lawyers involved in this unwholesome behavior is casting negative aspersion on the courts, judges and the entire judiciary.

As we lawyers are aware, such behavior is totally in contravention of Rules 1 and 15 of the Code of Moral and Professional Ethics for Lawyers.

Rule 1 specifically states that "it shall be unprofessional for any lawyer to advice, initiate or otherwise participate directly or indirectly in any act that tends to undermine or impugn the authority, dignity, integrity of the courts or judges thereby hindering the effective administration of justice".

Rule 15 also states "that a lawyer should refrain from any act whereby for his personal benefit or gain he abuses or takes advantage of the confidence reposed in him by his client".

My dear friends of the Bar, we all know that Lawyers are Friends of the Court. Therefore, we are to rebuild confidence in our courts and roll back some of the negative perceptions that permeate the minds of some members of the public about our courts, we must all rise to the challenge and stop these negative actions that have the tendency to cast negative aspersions on the courts and the legal system, and assist the courts in ensuring the effective administration of justice, revealed.

MAGISTERIAL COURT JUDGES

While it is true that Magisterial Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, however you are very important in our jurisdiction. You as Magisterial Court Judges are the first personnel of the Judiciary before whom our people appear. And so, the first impression of the Judiciary is created at the Magisterial Courts.

Please take note that if your conduct is contrary to law, it will have a far reaching negative effect on the entire Judiciary Branch of Government. You are the true mirror to whom the image of the judiciary can be seen.

I am therefore calling upon you as Magisterial Court Judges to be vigilant, cautious and diligent in handling cases that are forwarded to your various courts for adjudication without fear or favor. Let all of your judicial decisions be based solely on the law because by doing that, the Judiciary will gain credibility and the public will also have confidence to seek justice at our courts whenever they have a legal problem.

Your Honors, I am further requesting that you take judicial notice of the fact that some politicians might try to use our courts as platforms to promote themselves by interfering in judicial decisions.

Kindly do not allow yourselves to be pressured, coerced, or to let our Courts to be used as a platforms by politicians to promote themselves.

Please, do not allow any politician or any other person to interfere in judicial decisions you will make.

As are aware, the Judiciary is an Independent Branch of Government. As such, we are not answerable to any member of another branch of Government beside our bosses.

More importantly, our judicial decisions are only subject to Judicial Review by our superior courts and nobody else.

Further, we as judges and magistrates are not politicians but rather, we are dispensers of justice.

By this, we are under legal duty and obligation to always ensure that justice prevails in every case that is brought before us. To achieve this, we must all-time exhibit cool neutrality in the cases we handle, and we must always remember that we are never parties to a suit.

However, if cases are brought before you which would cause conflict of interest, then in such situations, the most appropriate thing to do is to recuse yourselves from hearing such cases.

This is important because as dispensers of justice, we cannot allow ourselves to be caught in situations that would embarrass us, yea the entire judiciary.

PROSPECTIVE JURORS

Chapter 20.1 (I) of our Criminal Procedure Law of 1973 provides that defendant, who is charged with the commission of a crime is entitled to a Jury Trial as a matter of right.

Article 28 of our Constitution also guarantees a defendant in a criminal trial a right to a speedy and impartial trial by a jury of the vicinity.

It is obedience to our Constitution and Statute that you have been summoned to be with us this term of court.

Your being with us is to perform a civic duty to our beloved Country, Liberia.

Do not come to perform this duty with a mind set to render verdicts that are contrary to the evidence and the applicable laws before you for reward or hope of reward.

Lawyers practicing before our court, partly litigants, court personnel, sheriff and bailiffs, no issue of Jury tempering will be tolerated because, if any of you engages in jury tempering, and you are caught, be assured that you won't go scoot free, because we will ensure that you be drastically dealt with in conformity with the law. So be warned.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I wish to inform you although some of us are relatively new to the judgeship, a core value we have upheld is to resist outside influence and to be prompt and expeditious in handling matters that come before us. In a nutshell, we shall work diligently during this term to ensure that the law takes its course in clear, precision-driven and in a fearless manner.

We can assure that we have some in the likeness of (Lady Blind Justice). Meaning, we have no personal interest in any matter before these Courts. Our actions and decisions will be purely based on the conviction that we have acted on the facts and evidence that have been presented to us and will make judicial determination within the ambit of the law.

Therefore, we do hereby solemnly promise that we will fairly and impartially discharge our duties without fear, favor, creed, religious affiliation, tribalism, or relationship, a reaffirmation of our Oath as Judges.

In connection thereto, we want to encourage the County Attorney, Prosecutors and the Defense Lawyers to kindly take the assignment of cases with a high degree of importance.

It is our expectation that in the process, you would have already secured your witnesses so that a Jury cannot be empanelled and the matter not heard for the simple reasons like, the lack of witnesses, or logistics, which may delay the conclusion of cases, thereby holding the Courts hostage and being unable to empanel another Jury.

We also give similar admonishment to the Public Defender (s), as well as Private Legal Practitioners that will be appearing before us for the adjudication of cases during this term of court to be vigilant and diligent in handling their clients' cases.

We urge our lawyers to avoid un-necessary excuses, and delay tactics for hearing of cases. We will not tolerate un-necessary delay of cases. Our people are crying for speedy trial, and we are under duty to timely dispose of cases before us.

Further, we also urge all lawyers appearing before us, including our clerical staff and Ministerial officers to be dutiful, prudent and punctual, because punctuality will be the hallmark of the November A.D. 2019 Term of Court.

Now, therefore, with the power vested in us by the Mandate of His Honor Francis S. Korkpor, Sr., Chief Justice of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia, mandating us to preside over this November A.D. 2019 Term of Criminal Assizes A, B, C, and D of Montserrado County respectively, I hereby declared the November A.D. 2019 Term of Court formally opened for the transactions of business.

All who have matters before these courts should draw nigh and they shall be heard. And is so ordered.

Thank you!

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