SG Cephus Pounds ECOWAS Court -Charges Judge Asante of Bias, Attacks Against Liberia

When it was reported that the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice rendered a judgement of guilt against the Government of Liberia in favor of impeached Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, reactions amongst Liberians were mixed. While some arguers contended that the verdict was unfair and objectionable as the matter which the former Justice took the court was purely constitutional and needed not be overridden and overturned by a Regional Court, others contended that Liberia, which rectified and acceded to the Court’s powers, must abide by its decisions as the Liberian lawyers’ appearance before it subjected the country to the authority of Court. What was never debated enough was whether or not the verdict was, after all, fair and free from bias and malice against Liberia. It was not until the President of Court took to the international media to make “derogatory statements” purely exposing Liberian Government to public ridicule that some experts sensed that, indeed, it was a compromised ruling. One Liberian who is particularly keen on this note is the man who led a team of lawyers to defend Liberia against Justice J’aneh at the Court. As The Analyst reports, Cllr. Serenius Cephus, Solicitor General of Liberia, has sharply reacted to the Court, unveiling the Court President’s bias expressed in his condescending comments about the Government of Liberia during an interview with the Voice of Africa.

The Solicitor General of Liberia has officially reacted to the ruling by the ECOWAS Court of Justice against the Republic of Liberia in favor of complainant Kabineh Ja’neh. It was recently reported that the Court declared a ruling in which it demanded the reinstatement of Cllr. J’aneh as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia in additional to other penalties including nearly a half million dollars to the former Justice.

But before inks ever got dry on the verdict by the Court, its President, His Honor Justice Edward Amoako Asante, was on the Voice of America radio ridiculing the Government of Liberia, claiming that Liberian Government was in the business of dismissing judges without cause “for not dancing to their tune”.

The comments of the Court’s lead judge have infuriated the Solicitor General of Liberia, Cllr Sayma Syrenius Cephus, who has tendered a strongly worded riposte questioning the professionalism, neutrality and fairness of Justice Asante. In a communication dated November 16, 2020, addressed to the President of the Court, His Honor Justice Edward Amoako Asante, the Liberian Solicitor General asserted that while he was awaiting the ruling of the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the Ja’neh case, Justice Asante “conducted an interview with the Voice of America (VOA) to ridicule and portray the Government of Liberia as “sacking judges who are not dancing to its tune,” and threatening wide range of “punitive sanctions” if the judgment delivered is not adhered to by Liberia.

SG Cephus told the ECOWAS Court President that “we consider these comments to be obviously unmerited, vexatious and provocative, and believe that they have absolutely transcended the pale of authority and character of a fair and unbiased jurist”.

The Solicitor General observed that Justice Asante’s emotional expression was meant to   undeservedly expose the Liberian Government to public disrepute, unnecessarily challenge its commitment   to the rule of law, as well as unjustifiably belittle a Sovereign Member State over a matter that is, as yet, inconclusive, under the provisions of Article 92 of the Rules of Procedure of the Community Court of Justice (ECCJ).

He said the Liberian Government availed itself to, and participated in the proceedings of the court, in recognition of the authority of the court, and in conformity to its unwavering commitment to the rule of law.

But to suggest otherwise, as the ECOWAS Court Justice has unprecedentedly done, SG Cephus noted, “is insalubrious to say the least and to a large extent, misleading, provocative and compels the Liberian Government into a consideration of the neutrality of the court as well as the neutrality of Your Honor to further preside over this matter, both of which can only serve to undermine the recognized authority of the court”.

Cllr Cephus further indicated that for the Justice to have sought to publicly misrepresent the Liberian Government before it could have a chance to actually receive and review the judgment, and considering the requisite available legal options and recourse strangely amounts to an effort on the part of the Justice to unfairly impose your will on the Liberian Government and people and prejudicially limit the response of the Government and people of Liberia.

“The Liberian Government does not believe these actions are useful for the credibility, neutrality and independence of the Community Court of Justice (ECCJ),” he added: “As Your Honor is quite aware, courts of law do not invent issues, and judges are guided by Canons of Judicial Ethics, specifically subsection (1) of the canons that expressly states under its adjudicative responsibilities that: ‘A judge should be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence in it. He should be unswayed by partisan interests, public clamor, or fear of criticism;’ and of course, the dictates of their own judgments on every issue brought before them for adjudication.

According to Cllr Cephus, courts or judges are not parties, and ought not to invite themselves into being perceived as parties, “as Your Honor have done, especially when a matter is inconclusive insofar as it can be the subject of further judicial review.”

The Liberian Solicitor General reminded that ECOWAS Court President that every opinion expressed by a judge or a court of law on a matter, in preservation of the sacredness of the courts’ neutrality and independence, must necessarily be the outcome of a judgment hearing consistent with due process.

“Your Honor’s unnecessary and unwarranted public misrepresentation of the Liberian Government’s commitment to rule of law now leaves us to wonder what may be left to explore in a planned judicial review process,” said rather sternly. “More aptly put, in the face of Your Honor’s mischaracterization of the action and reputation of the Liberian Government, the court cannot  exude any reasonable fairness and neutrality required to undertake a material oversight that the Liberian Government  believes to have been  committed in the adjudication of the main suit, when  Your Honor  is already  on record of telling the whole  world, on the Voice of America (VOA), that the   Government of Liberia is ‘dismissing judges’ who are its own citizens ‘without cause’ for ‘not dancing to its tone’, and then proceeding to threaten a ‘wide range of punitive sanctions if the judgment is not adhered to.”’

He told Justice Asante that “it is the considered position of the Liberian Government that the opportunity available to it to ask the court to impartially re-examine some of the countless issues of judicial omission, is very slim, and perhaps nonexistent.”

This is why, Cllr Cephus noted, “even a possible recusal from the case by Your Honor, which seems an inevitably honorable choice to make, would not operate to cure the material defects and the judgmental opinion that the court currently holds simpliciter, due to the scale of the damaging comments made.”

“As a result, we are unable to arrive at any decision that a planned judicial review application will receive any fair hearing.”

The Liberian Government notes with disturbing concerns that on November 10, 2020, the same date of the ruling, in a series of judgments, the Court awarded  huge monetary damages to other applicants, including but not limited to, a landmark case from the sisterly Republic of Mali, where each of 15 applicants  were awarded CFA 5 million each. No mention was made of this.

“Instead, Your Honor disdainfully singled out the Republic of Liberia and preemptively shredded its declared commitment to rule of law,” the Liberian lead prosecution lawyer lamented.

“This is absolutely incompatible with the manner and form in which courts of such high international repute go about enforcing their judgment leaving the reasoned conclusion that Your Honor’s actions and comments against the Liberian Government were political as opposed to judicial.”

Cllr Cephus told the ECOWAS Court further: “In light of what seems a judgment without opinion delivered by Your Honor in a nonexistent matter before the court, whose intent is to preclude any judicial review application that is being contemplated, the Liberian Government herein demands, as a matter of law, that Your Honor will cease, now, and in the future, any further judicial participation in this matter,  so as to protect the image of the Honorable Court, ensuring thereby that  judicial fairness and independence is restored and returned to the court, in the interest of justice.”

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