MONROVIA – The President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan S. Gongloe, has enjoined judges of the Supreme Court of Liberia to eschew judicial influence and promote freedom of expression as a result of their opinions. Taking due note of the rancorous argument floating with the public place that maligns the Liberian justice system as partial and favorable to certain class of citizens, Cllr. Glongloe noted that some expressions of disagreement may be in words that may be considered unpleasant by others; yet some may be pleasant words, but not considered factually truthful; yet still, some may be a combination of both but fundamentally flawed in analyses and conclusions. The important thing, Cllr. Gongloe said, is that in a democracy there must be an unfettered flow of views on the functioning of the three branches of government, and that, while, views expressed by lawyers, party-litigants and observers of the judiciary may be considered not constructive or merely intended to make the judiciary look bad, no reaction of a judicial officer at any level of the judiciary should be for the protection of the image of the judiciary.
Making his position known Monday during official opening of the Supreme Court for the October 2021 Term, the LNBA president noted that the LNBA takes particular note of the issues of judicial influence and the freedom of expression highlighted in the Opening Address.
“Disagreement, your honors, no matter how it may be expressed must always be viewed as the kernel of democracy. Image-building is an expression that is meant for those whose positions are motivated by the impression of the public such as elected officials or appointed officials without a tenure. Public opinions about a judge is not a pre-condition for maintaining a judicial office.
“What is needed of a judicial officer is to uphold the oath of his/her office at all times and to remain loyal to his/her conscience and country in the performance of his/her duties as a judge. There is no history that a judge has ever been removed from office in Liberia because of a newspaper report or comment made by any citizen or observer of the court. In fact some of the very brutal expressions regarding decisions of the Court have, on some occasions come from justices of the Supreme Court, for example, in their dissenting opinions.
“The view held by the public of the existence of judicial corruption, for instance, has been publicly shared by members of the judiciary, sometimes at the highest level. For example on one occasion, the late Chief Justice Johnny Lewis said, “The judiciary needs to be cleaned up and public confidence restored in the courts system”, Liberia: Too few judges, too many cases snag rule of law – Liberia (ReliefWeb).
“At the opening of the May Term of Court, the press reported the following on remarks made by the Chief Justice: “Chief Justice Francis Korkpor on Monday, May 9 openly admitted that Liberian Judges are corrupt without mentioning the name of any individual judge. The Chief Justice’s admittance to corruption in the Judiciary comes after some international reports had cast dark cloud over the independence and transparency of the third branch of government earlier.” Chief Justice Admits to Judges’ Corruption (theworldnews.net).
These comments by a former Chief Justice and one by the current Chief Justice, Cllr. Gongloe noted, may not be considered constructive by some because they were not definite about the judicial officers whose conducts motivated these remarks. It is the view of the LNBA that free expression of views should not be curtailed or discouraged in any manner, shape or form and that critical views about the judiciary should encounter no disciplinary action, but same should be taken in good faith by all members of the judiciary as was done in the case of the two chief justices. Our Constitution provides for equal treatment before the law. There is more good in criticism than any harm that may be done by it. We cannot build a free society without freedom of expression.
“On the issue of delay in bringing finality to cases at the Supreme Court, the LNBA joins Your Honor in appealing to members of the bar in filing their briefs in keeping with the Rules of the Supreme Court, in order to give ample time to the bench to read the briefs before assigning cases for argument. While we will make no excuse for lawyers that are derelict in the performance of their duties, we must bring to the attention of this honorable that some lawyers, too, have perennially complained that they have argued cases and waited for several terms of court without this Court’s opinions in those cases. It is obvious that the failure or delay in making decisions in cases that have been argued before this court is also a major source of delay in concluding cases brought before this court on appeal. Such actions on the part of this Court tends to undermine public confidence in the Judiciary.
“There is another observation about this Court that is becoming popular among lawyers, their clients and the greater Liberian society. That view is that the decisions of this Court, in some cases, tend to create doubts and sometimes confusions as to the implication and sometimes implications of the Court’s decision. It is important that this Court as the final arbiter of all disputes in the Republic of Liberia be crystal clear in all its decisions, in order to aid the Liberian people in sustaining the peace that they continue to build after 14 years of fratricidal civil conflict. In short, the Court must be clear and unambiguous in its decisions,” Cllr. Gongloe noted.