Gongloe Chides Chief Justice On Judicial Freedom and Expression of Opinion

Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, President of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA), says he takes particular note of the issues of judicial influence and the freedom of expression highlighted in recent comments by Chief Justice Francis Korkpor.

“Disagreement, your honors, no matter how it may be expressed must always be viewed as the kernel of democracy. Some expressions of disagreement may be in words that may be considered unpleasant by others, yet some may be pleasant words, but not considered factually truthful; yet still, some may be a combination of both but fundamentally flawed in analyses and conclusions.”

The Bar President pointed out that the important thing is that in a democracy there must be an unfettered flow of views on the functioning of the three branches of government.
While views expressed by lawyers, party-litigants, and observers of the judiciary may be considered not constructive or merely intended to make the judiciary look bad, he stated that no reaction of a judicial officer at any level of the judiciary should be for the protection of the image of the judiciary. According to Cllr. Gongloe, image-building is an expression that is meant for those whose positions are motivated by the impression of the public such as elected officials or appointed officials without a tenure.

He noted that public opinions about a judge are not a pre-condition for maintaining a judicial office, but stressed that what is needed of a judicial officer is to uphold the oath of his/her office at all times and to remain loyal to his/her conscience and country in the performance of his/her duties as a judge.

The Bar President indicated that there is no history that a judge has ever been removed from office in Liberia because of a newspaper report or comment made by any citizen or observer of the court.
“In fact, some of the very brutal expressions regarding decisions of the Court have on some occasions come from justices of the Supreme Court: for example, in their dissenting opinions. The view held by the public of the existence of judicial corruption, for instance, has been publicly shared by members of the judiciary, sometimes at the highest level.”

He recalled that at the opening of the May Term of Court, the press reported the following about remarks made by the Chief Justice, “Chief Justice Francis Korkpor on Monday, May 9 openly admitted that Liberian Judges are corrupt without mentioning the name of any individual judge. The Chief Justice’s admittance to corruption in the Judiciary comes after some international reports had cast dark cloud over the independence and transparency of the third branch of government earlier.” 
Gongloe said these comments by a former Chief Justice and one by the current Chief Justice may not be considered constructive by some because they were not definite about the judicial officers whose conduct motivated these remarks.

“It is the view of the LNBA that free expression of views should not be curtailed or discouraged in any manner, shape, or form and that critical views about the judiciary should encounter no disciplinary action, but same should be taken in good faith by all members of the judiciary as was done in the case of the two chief justices. Our Constitution provides for equal treatment before the law,” Gongloe mentioned.

He added that there is more good in criticism than any harm that may be done by it as a free society cannot be built without freedom of expression.

On the issue of delay in bringing finality to cases at the Supreme Court, the LNBA President has joined the High Court in appealing to members of the bar in filing their briefs in keeping with the Rules of the Supreme Court, in order to give ample time to the bench to read the briefs before assigning cases for argument.

“While we will make no excuse for lawyers that are derelict in the performance of their duties, we must bring to the attention of this honorable that some lawyers, too, have perennially complained that they have argued cases and waited for several terms of court without this Court’s opinions in those cases.” The Bar President noted that it is obvious that the failure or delay in making decisions in cases that have been argued before the court is also a major source of delay in concluding cases brought before this court on appeal. For him, such actions on the part of the court tend to undermine public confidence in the Judiciary.

As stated by Cllr. Gongloe, there is another observation about the court that is becoming popular among lawyers, their clients, and the greater Liberian society.

“That view is that the decisions of this Court, in some cases, tend to create doubts and sometimes confusions as to the implication and sometimes implications of the Court’s decision. It is important that this Court, as the final arbiter of all disputes in the Republic of Liberia, be crystal clear in all its decisions, to aid the Liberian people in sustaining the peace that they continue to build after 14 years of fratricidal civil conflict. In short, the Court must be clear and unambiguous in its decisions,” he stressed further.

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