Trial Judges Hold 10th Convention -As Cllr Warner Says “Judges bear the greatest responsibility for improprieties in their court”

MONROVIA: The ultimate dispensers of legal justice in the country are the trial judges who spread out across the country. Yesterday, these agents of democracy and peace assembled under their umbrella organization, the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia at the Temple of Justice to hold and observe their tenth convention. As the custom has been, the assembly was open for various shades of orations geared at subjecting them to critical self-assessment and evaluation. Incidentally, the group made as its Keynote Speaker one of Liberia’s acclaimed, fearless legal luminaries, former Law School Dean Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner. As usual, the erudite lawyer hardly left the needful unsaid, as he pointed to many things Liberian trial judges needed to do and void to merit public confidence and give dignity to the legal profession. He put much of the hurdles in the way of the transparent dispensation of justice squarely on the laps of the judges, positing they are responsible for the miscarriage of justice. THE ANALYST reports.

Liberia’s justice system has long been a subject of contempt, widely viewed as being corrupt and a source of the country’s social, economic and political nemeses. Once again, it has come to the unfortunate spotlight, this time proffered by one of their own, a longtime lawyer, Cllr. T. Negbalee Warner.

At its 10th Convention yesterday, Liberians lawyers, specifically those entrusted with the sacred responsibility to dispense justice—to put right or wrong where it genuinely belongs—were held culpable for doing the unthinkable and the unlawful: the miscarriage of justice.

Former University of Liberia Law School Dean, Cllr T. Negbalee Warner, is of the view that trial judges in the country have much to do with the miscarriage of justice and other dishonorable things and that they needed to do better.

Speaking on the topic, “Efficient, Predictable, and Fair Disposition of Cases is  indispensable to safeguarding democratic values and promote confidence in the Judiciary,” Cllr Warner reminded Liberia’s trial judges that the public expects accountability and good stewardship of the legal system, which includes equity, justice, and probity by all persons such as court officers, lawyers, party litigants, jurors, and judges themselves.

“It is not an enough defense that some of the problems with the court system are caused by lawyers, court officers, jurors, etc.,” he said, adding, “Judges have enormous control over their courts, which means they can demand of everyone dealing with their courts not only what the law requires but any high standards each judge sets for herself or himself.  Perception is sometimes as important as reality, especially in matters relating to reputation and public confidence.”

Continuing, Cllr Warner told the judges: “The bucks stop with the judge who can prevent, stop, or mitigate any inefficiency, wrongdoing or whatever is wrong.  Hence, by reason analogous to the well-known last clear chance doctrine, judges bear the greatest responsibility for any miscarriage of justice including any conduct less than honorable by whomever in respect of a case because judges have both the authority and means to prevent, stop or mitigate any wrongful or dishonorable conduct in their conduct or affecting orders, verdicts, or judgments or the confirmation/enforcement thereof.”

The 10th Trial Judges Convention, attended by officials of the Supreme Court and Government, was officially held on the theme, “The Judiciary and Democracy in Liberia: Safeguarding Democratic Values in the Legal System, Especially During and After Elections.”

But Cllr Warner opined that judges and the entire Liberian judiciary need not do anything extra during or after elections to safeguard democratic values.

“Rather, they need to do every day ONLY what is required of them by virtue of their offices,” he told them. “In short, judges only need to maintain faithful adherence to and application of the law in the disposition of cases in a manner that is efficient, predictable and fair.”

The said, ultimately, judges, as the personification of the court, are “the last place of hope for man on earth” and that “hence, just as judges are reviewed by higher tribunals on earth so they will also be reviewed by the all-knowing, most just, and supreme judge and arbiter of all human affairs and conduct”.

He added: “And the focus of every judge, this Convention, and this Association is or should be what would the Good Lord say of your stewardship in disposing of cases and safeguarding the rule of law and democratic governance in Liberia. Let’s hope and work that it will be as you would desire.”

Cllr. Warner further warned that  there are a couple of ways that judges could do nothing more than performing their normal duties, and the Liberian judiciary would still be considered as successful in safeguarding democratic values.

“In particular, I suggest that to safeguard democratic values and promote confidence in the judiciary will require judges disposing of cases with efficiency; predictability and fairness. I present below a brief discussion of each of the three factors,” he emphasized, citing also the need for efficiency in the disposition of cases.

According to him, a court’s disposition of every case entails personal attention, diligence, efforts, and time of the judge, the clerk, ministerial officers and other court’s staff as well as the party litigants and their counsels.

He said it also entails processes and procedures for receiving, filing, serving, recording, retrieval, and securing of papers. The efficiency of all persons and processes involved in the disposition of a case is therefore key to fair and timely administration of justice.

The erudite lawyer however also acknowledged that lawyers and party litigants are themselves partly responsible for some delays in the disposition of cases, and even for unofficial payments offered or made.

“However, a judge is the master of his/her court, as he or she is indisputably the voice or representation of the court,” he noted. “Further, a judge is not only required by judicial canons and statutes to demonstrate a high standard of conduct, but to demand the same of everyone doing business in and/or with his/her court. Hence, when a judge leads, everyone follows.”

The learned Counsellor told lawyers that for the public to have confidence in the judiciary, the judiciary itself needs to have a strict adherence rule of courts and/or discipline.

“Although many see the gavel which judges hold as their authority, the actual authority lies within the ability of a Judge to expeditiously dispose of cases along with the quality of the judge ruling/judgment, which promote respect for and compliance with such judgment(s),” he indicated.

The Law School Professor also spoke of the Docket System, stressing the importance of a docket system and the legal requirement to have it established, maintained and observed are not subject to dispute; the problem is compliance with the requirement for docketing.

He noted: “Section 15.2 of the Civil Procedure Law provides for cases to be docketed upon service of the defendant(s), and that ‘cases docketed for a term of court shall be  shall be docketed in order of the date on which the clerk receives proof of service, except that cases entitled to preference shall be accorded priority over others.’

“Further, Part III (a) of the Supreme Court Rules of Court also provides that ‘the Clerk shall enter upon the docket all cases appealed to or pending in this Court in the order of their filing’. The Honorable Supreme Court has opined in Al-Boley et al v Unity Party, 33 LLR 244 (1985), that… ‘the name of ‘docket’ or ‘trial docket’ is sometimes given to the list or calendar of causes set to be tried at a specified term, prepared by the clerks for the use of the court and bar.’” See full text of Cllr. Address on page 7 of this edition.

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