MONROVIA – The Liberian Senate has been probing the legal, moral and professional competence of President Weah’s pick for the much-revered seat of Justice Chief who is taking over from retiring Francis S. Korkpor Sr. As the job is critical for the peace and stability of the Constitutional Democracy Liberia espouses, the Honorable Senate is putting in much time to grill and assess the incoming High Court Judge and Chief Administrator of the Liberian Judiciary. But the nominee, Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh, is not taking the Senate due diligence exercise lightly, leaving nothing unsaid about her plans for a credible and robust judiciary under her leadership. The Analyst reports.
The Chief Justice-designate of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Her Honor Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh, has underscored three cardinal issues that the Liberian Judiciary under her command will prioritize when confirmed by the Liberian Senate.
Facing the Senator Varney Sherman-led Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday, August 26, 2022, Associate Justice Yuoh said she identified three priority issues during her 40 years of service in the legal profession, which her administration will hit the ground running to address.
She named the hurdles as the public’s lack of understanding and knowledge about the judiciary branch of government; the cumbersomeness of the procedural laws; and the noncompliance by the executive branch of government with respect to the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act.
She also pledged that she and her colleagues’ decisions will be swift, decisive, accurate, and more importantly, they will work to make the courts more accessible.
“First of all, the general public does not understand the workings of the judiciary branch of government, and this is not unique to Liberia. And because of this lack of understanding and knowledge of this branch of government, there is a high misconception of the judiciary, mainly the courts,” she told the Senate Committee on Judiciary.
“Secondly, the procedural laws have oftentimes adversely affected the expeditious disposition of cases in our courts. And thirdly, noncompliance by the executive government with the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act, which has oftentimes undermined the workings of the judiciary.”
She continued: “My mission as a Chief Justice in addressing the first issue listed herein is for the Supreme Court, being the regulator of the practice of law, to ensure that the Liberia National Bar Association adhere to Article 2 of its own Constitution and By-law which requires the Bar to advance the cause of legal education, secure the passage of legislation to improve the judicial system, improve the relationship between the Bench and the Bar, ensure lawyers conduct themselves ethically, and improve legal aid among the general public. The Bar needs to stand in the gap for the courts – they are the only clients of the court, in developing a national program that will seek the interests of the general public, their clients and the courts.”
Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh asserted further: “For example, there has been increased outcry about rape cases especially affecting minors, and all the papers carried the headlines, ‘What is the Supreme Court doing?’, failing to understand that the courts are independent, nominal, and have nothing to do with those matters until formally brought before the court. In the case of rape, there is where the Ministry of Justice starts with the police who investigate, get evidence, and if there is any probable cause, an indictment is drawn, and then that indictment is filed before the proper court, and then the court is now seized of the matter. The court cannot hear about rioting down the road and say go catch the people and bring them before the court.”
Justice Yuoh also stated that her administration would seek remedy to the problems posed by the cumbersomeness of the procedural laws.
According to the Chief Justice Designate, the procedural laws are cumbersome, vulnerable to technicalities and open to individual interpretations, quoting Article 75 of the Constitution which states that “The Supreme Court shall from time to time make rules for the purpose of regulating the practice, procedure and manner by which cases shall be commenced and heard before it, and all other subordinate courts. It shall prescribe such Code of Conduct for lawyers appearing before it and all other subordinate courts as may be necessary to facilitate the proper discharge of the court’s function. Such rules and code, however, shall not contravene any statutory provision or any provision of this Constitution.”
She told the Senate that given the fact that legislative amendments and repeals to existing procedural laws used by the courts to conduct trial is a long and tedious process which entails in-depth research, solicitation of expert opinions, she would not be remiss to request the Legislature to delegate such function of law making, specifically the procedural laws to the Supreme Court, the administrative expert, in addressing issues arising in our courts relating to the application of the procedural law.
This request, according to her, is in consonance with the delegation clause of Article 34n of the Constitution of Liberia. Pursuant to this same provision, the legislature may delegate other functions as they deem necessary for the expeditious disposition of cases.
She also indicated that her reasons for highlighting noncompliance of the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act as a recipe which undermines the workings of the Judiciary, is to emphasize the need for the three branches of government to utilize the coordination clause as found in Chapter 1 Article 3 of the Constitution, in ensuring that the Judiciary is financially functional to avoid the embarrassing situation of the Supreme Court constantly citing the Minister of Finance to ensure compliance with the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act.
“In addition to ensuring that the Judicial Financial Autonomy Act is fully complied with in an expeditious manner,” she stressed, “I also request the Judiciary be prioritized in the allocation of contingency budget.”
She pledged: “If I am confirmed as Chief Justice, expect to see a lot of hard work. This is all I have been doing for the last 40 years in the legal profession. My colleagues and I of the Supreme Court Bench will be swift, decisive, accurate, and more importantly, we will work to make our courts more accessible.”
Humble, but Sound Beginnings
Narrating to the Judiciary Committee her path to climbing the ladder in the legal profession, Chief Justice-designate Yuoh recounted how her faith in God and her parental upbringing helped to shape her into a highly principled individual.
She narrated: “I come from a very humble beginning, rooted in my late father, A. Clay Yuoh, a public servant from Maryland County, Barrobo Chiefdom, and who served the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication of the Republic of Liberia, under the administration of the late McKinley A. Deshield, Jr. A father of 32 children, a devout Christian, a strong disciplinarian who invested in the education of his children. It is well-known that he also fostered many other children regardless of their ages, sex or ethnic background. He never spared the rod in making sure our feet remained firmly planted on the right path. And I am grateful that my father loved us but at the same time disciplined us. He believed in us, and at the same time inculcated values in us. He was gently hot, while at the same time stiff as a disciplinary.
She recalled that her journey is also a product of her late mother who hailed from among the peace-loving people of Bong County, specifically Sinoyea.
“I recalled her always saying that most people have the saying in Liberia that Kpelle people are stupid. She said, but we are not stupid,” the Liberian Chief Justice-to-be said, adding: “We always just take time to understand situations and people before we respond. And when we do respond, it is definite.”
She further narrated that her mother, although not formally educated, had very high deportment and demeanor comparable to any esteemed lady of our society.
She added: “My mother was well cultured, well organized, and gentle in speech, mannerisms and character. She understood the signs of submission and humility, while maintaining her dignity in a very uncompromising standard. For this, I am proud to wear to wear her ideals as proof as a badge of honor and to also share her values with my daughter and other girls that were brought to me eventually. But paramount to all this, my journey is rooted and grounded in my salvation when some 30 years ago, I received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I surrendered my life to Him. He has not failed me, nor left me since.”
“I am aware that at such a hearing, and especially one surrounding the high position of chief justice, your interest, and I am sure, the interest of everyone here today is as regards my suitability for the said position. But let me first state here that the Constitution, Article 65, provides that “the judicial power of the Republic shall be vested in a Supreme Court, and such subordinate courts as the Legislature may from time to time establish”. The new Judiciary Law, Chapter 1, Section 1.1 also states that “the Judicial power of this Republic shall be embodied in a unified judicial system, and shall be vested in one Supreme Court and subordinate courts”.
“These references are only to remind us that granted, there is the position of chief justice, but just as we cannot all speak at the same time, the position of chief justice exists, but is not an isolated position. There are four associate justices of the Supreme Court, and judges of subordinate courts who assist the chief justice in keeping our entire judicial system unified. Since my graduation from law school some 40 years ago, I have lived in the legal profession. My resume is before you all, Honorable Senators.
“Then for the last nine years, I have occupied the position of associate justice of the Supreme Court. I have been an oversight justice over the judicial circuits of Sinoe, Rivercess and Grand Gedeh Counties, and subsequently and presently over the judicial circuits of Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties. I have traveled with the current Chief Justice, His Honor Francis A. Korkpor, Sr., on many of his administrative visits to inspect various projects of the judiciary. The full bench of the Supreme Court sitting in what we have termed as Justices Forum is regularly briefed by the Chief Justice on administrative matters following which decisions are made as a full bench as regards cases on appeal before the Supreme Court and the Judiciary as a whole.
“Prior to my ascendancy at the Supreme Court, I occupied several administrative positions at various public institutions, including the Ministry of Justice, private law firms, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Central Bank of Liberia, and the Law Reform Commission,” Justice Yuoh stated.
Following her summation to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the nominee was grilled by members of the Judiciary Committee including Senators Augustine Chea of Sinoe County, Steve Zargo of Lofa County, Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado County, Joseph K. Jallah of Lofa County, among others.
The Chief Justice-designate, who used the occasion to clearly explain her suitability for the job, seemed to assume a pedagogical style in providing details about her judicial philosophy which she aptly summed up by saying: “People often say that the law is reasoning. But I always say the law is the law”. She further explained that the issue of reasoning when applied to law could be dependent on one’s current disposition, situation or position. “But at the end of the day, the law must prevail in its pure context,” Justice Yuoh intoned.
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