Liberia: Supreme Court Shuns Death Penalty
17 October 2013
Supreme Court Justices refused to address the question of death penalty sanction raised by visiting European Union officials during a frank and "open dialogue" designed to allow EU explore the possibilities of working with the Liberian judiciary.
The justices remarked that they took oath to defend and uphold the Constitution and laws of Liberia and can do nothing about the death sentence until the law is changed, which power to legislate is granted the Legislature rather than the Judiciary.
The European Union Delegation comprising ambassadors of various member states of the Union was paying a courtesy visit to Supreme Court of Liberia as part of its ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders of the Liberian Government. The delegation headed by Ambassador Attilio PACIFICI, said that the purpose of its visit to the Supreme Court was to have a frank and "open dialogue" with the Judiciary on a number of concerns, including the values of the EU, and to understand the challenges of the System in order to communicate with, and convey to their respective governments the needs of the Liberian Judiciary with the aim of informing their principals on how support can be channelled to enhance the capacity of the Judiciary to address current realities of the System.
Key amongst the concerns raised by the EU Delegation were judiciary and the fight against corruption; the Constitutional Review Process; and the Death Penalty sanction of the Liberian law.
A statement from the Supreme Court said at the onset of the deliberations, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. welcomed the members of the delegation on behalf of the Supreme Court of Liberia and expressed gratitude to them for the familiarization meeting. The Chief Justice and Associate Justices said that they were gravely concerned about corruption allegations, and were taking steps to minimize the plague where ever identified in the system, listing the recent suspension of three judges and a lawyer, and the disbarment of a counsellor-at-law, whose actions were found wanting, after investigation. The justices, however, expressed regrets that those making constant allegations of corruption were "unwilling to come forward to help identify where the acts are being practiced, and by which officers of the court." They also said that "untrained and incompetent staff brought into the System during the various factional governments of the years of crisis also contributes to the excesses that may be found in the Judiciary." According to the justice, while it was not feasible to get rid of all current staff of the Judiciary with unsatisfactory training from the Judiciary in the immediate, appropriate measures, including the policies to recruit law school graduates to serve as stipendiary magistrates; Judicial Institute graduates to serve as associate magistrates; high school graduates who pass the Civil Service Evaluation Test to serve as clerks and bailiffs, are being taken to address the issue of untrained personnel. Regarding the trial of individuals in other branches accused of corruption by the Liberian Anti-Corruption Commission and Ministry of Justice, the justices noted that these trials may be challenged by rules governing evidence; explaining further that sometimes the way evidence are collected, retained and presented makes it difficult to achieve judicial conviction. The five-member Bench then went on to say that sometimes the situation "is beyond the judge and may be due to the jury and the statute controlling criminal trials.