The Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) frowns on attempts by some state actors to engage in the harassment of lawyers simply on the account of representing their clients. The mother association of Liberian lawyers’ attention is drawn to a recent statement attributed to the Solicitor General of Liberia, threatening to arrest Cllr. Finley Karngar, a member of the LNBA, on the premise that he could not produce a client, in person of Henry Costa, who has fled the country based on personal security concerns.
The LNBA accentuated that assuming that Cllr. Finley signed for Mr. Henry Costa to have him report for an investigation, the mere fact that the Liberian Government was in the know that Mr. Costa had fled the country and the Government said it was initiating discussions with the Government of Sierra Leone to bring Costa back to Liberia has made the matter to become moot.
The position of the LNBA was contained in a statement issued in Monrovia on January 16, 2020. The legal association body indicated that therefore, Cllr. Karngar no longer had any obligation of ensuring the appearance of Costa before any forum, neither was he responsible to answer any question regarding the whereabouts of Henry Costa.
The LNBA maintains in its position statement that the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr. Cephas, who is also a member of the LNBA, does not have any authority to arrest a member of the LNBA who has not committed any offense under Liberian law.
The Bar Association further asserted, “For Cllr. Cephus to perceive, imagine, countenance or entertain the notion that he has such authority is sad, to say the least” cautioning the Solicitor General to exercise his authority within the scope of the law and with regard to the rights of all Liberian citizens, including lawyers, as guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberia and the international bill of human rights.
The LNBA stated that it will not tolerate any violation of the rights of lawyers in the execution of the professional obligations to their clients by the Solicitor General or any official of Government, and reminds the SG to always take cognizance of section 12.70 of the Penal Law which prohibits the abuse of public office.
The LNBA warns that it will not hesitate to institute actions and impose appropriate sanctions on Cllr. Cephus if he were to carry out the threatened arbitrary arrest of Cllr. Finley, in order to send out a clear message that the Bar will not condone the subjection of lawyers to harassment by state actors and shall always defend lawyers in the protection of their duties.
Additionally, the LNBA stressed it is taken aback that the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) would assign unto itself a duty outside of its statutory mandate beyond the Alien and Nationality Law by attempting to investigate a Liberian citizen for alleged possession of false travel document.
The Bar noted that the principal function of the LIS is to enforce the Alien and Nationality Law, Title 4 – Liberian Code of Laws Revised and not to conduct investigation of Liberian citizens suspected or accused of committing crime. Such a duty, according to the Bar, is strictly assigned to the Liberian National Police.
At the same time, the Bar said it is concerned about the escalating clampdown on critics of the government, as evidenced by unfounded allegations and threatening utterances coming from highly placed individuals, which may have the net effect of silencing dissent, thereby reversing the gains made in the building of democracy in Liberia and eventually creating an environment for the resurgence of dictatorship in Liberia and civil conflict.
“Once again, the LNBA calls on the Government of Liberia and all officials of government to take serious note of the fact that the legal profession is the only profession that is protected by the Constitution of Liberia. Article 21(i) of the Constitution of Liberia provides, amongst other things that ‘…no lawyer shall be… punished for providing legal services, regardless of the charges against or the guilt of his client…’”
Solicitor General Cephas and other overzealous officials of governments, the LNBA indicated, must resist the temptation to illegally amplify the scope of authority of their offices by taking actions against lawyers that bear the potential of creating a chilling effect on the practice of law and thereby make it difficult for lawyers to protect human rights in Liberia.
The LNBA, however, assures the Government of Liberia of its willingness to cooperate and collaborate with it in protecting the rights of the people and seeking their common good.
“But it shall not for one minute close its eyes on the violation of the rights of its members in the performance of the professional duties to their clients and any attempt by anyone holding public office in Liberia to depart from subscribing to governance by rule of law to governance by rule of man,” the LNBA concluded in its statement.