Judiciary Breaks 11-Year Jinx With National Conference

The Judicial Branch of Government has held its 4th National Judicial Conference after failing to do so for the past eleven years, as required by the Revised Rules of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

The conference brought together hundreds of participants including  Justices, Judges, Magistrates, lawyers, financial experts and other relevant stakeholders to discuss burning issues affecting law, public policy and the Liberian economy.

The National Judicial Conference was held at the Ministerial Complex in Monrovia from June 7-11, 2021 under the theme: The Law, Public Policy and the Economy.”

Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, in welcome remarks on Monday, June 7, 2021 at the opening of the conference, said the last National Judicial Conference was held in March 2010, more than 11 years ago under the administration of the late Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis.

He said: “At the time, I served as the Chairperson of the Conference Committee. As I have said before, law is much more dynamic and progressive than other fields of study.”

Chief Justice Korkpor also said the Revised Rules of the Supreme Court of Liberia provides that the Court shall hold a National Judicial Conference at least once a year. However, due to financial constraints, he noted that this has not been possible for a long time until now.

According to the Chief Justice, locally and internationally, new laws are constantly being promulgated, while existing laws are repealed or amended to suit the time, condition and the needs of the people. “This means that we who are in the field of law must keep pace with the changes and developments.

“We must meet from time to time to discuss trending issues in law and the administration of justice and harmonize views for the good of the public. We must continue to acquire/and or enhance knowledge in the law as a means of ensuring certainty in its interpretation,” he added.

He mentioned that this is exactly the rationale for the rule of the Supreme Court, which requires that a National Judicial Conference be held at least once each and every year. He seized the opportunity to thank the administration of President George Weah for making funds available for this conference.

The Chief Justice said it is hoped that from now on, funds will be provided on a regular basis to make the Conference an annual event as envisaged by the Rules of the Supreme Court. He thanked the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the American Bar Association (ABA) for also providing financial and logistical supports to this conference.

He lavished praises on his colleagues including, Justice SieA-Nyene G. Yuoh, Chairperson of the Conference Committee and the other members of that Committee for the excellent job done thus far in the planning and executing the activities of the conference.

He noted that Law is the system of rules made by a country or community to regulate its members, noting that the term law can be used broadly and interchangeably with rule of law. He added that rule of law, according to the United Nations, is “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the state itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”

The Chief Justice stated that it requires measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency.

Chief Justice Korkpor intoned that when the law or rule of law is violated, appropriate penalties are applied. “Public policy, on the other hand is a set of actions or decisions taken by the government or public officials on behalf of the public when addressing issues that affect the public. While laws are specifically codified and safely implanted either in the constitution or statutes enacted by the legislature and can be easily accessed, not all public policy decisions are provided for by law.”

The Chief Justice noted that this is where arbitrary and capricious acts sometimes find way into policy decisions taken by some government functionaries. But, he thinks this needs not be so since public policy decisions are especially required to be in conformity with the law at all times.

According to him, the rule of law and public policy must therefore work hand in hand and that all public policy decisions must be taken with the law or rule of law as the guiding principle to avoid arbitrariness.

He then reminded the participants that the rule of law is fundamental to national and international peace and security and political stability, and the rule of law is essential to the people’s access to public services and curbing corruption. He stressed the need for an unassailable tract of rule of law for the protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens and foreign nationals within our borders.

He described the rule of law as the cornerstone of democracy as it is strongly interlinked to development. “There is consensus that democratic governance, established through competitive, free and fair elections, creates a stable environment in which businesses can thrive and the economy can flourish.”

Chief Justice Korkpor intimated that the core of the rule of law principle is that all persons and authorities within the state, whether public or private should be bound by and entitled to the benefit of laws duly administered in courts of competent jurisdictions whose independence is not subject to any power or influence.

The role of the Judiciary, he said, must therefore remain sacrosanct to ensure adherence to the rule of law and the application of public policy based on existing laws. “Over the years, our courts have continued to carry out their primary function of hearing and fairly applying the law in cases involving those seeking refuge when in distress from unlawful intruders and violators.

“There have been challenges in the process, but we have remained on course. I urge all judges to continue to do so, even in the face of bias and negative reporting.  We must disregard the loud noise from the cynics and remain focused,” stated the Chief Justice.

He pointed out that the rule of law must be fairly applied to provide a framework for the exercise of free choice and equal opportunity; he said this in turn will give rise to the growth and development of the economy.

He quoted former Chief Justice A. Dash Wilson as once saying: “In the court lies an influence that can seriously affect our national economy…and discourage capital investment.” In other words, “how our courts decide cases, especially issues involving property and contract rights present cause for pausing and reflection on the implications for attracting investments to our already challenged economy.

“I should note that our laws are generally business friendly. For example, the Investment Act of 2010 forbids the nationalization of private enterprises. This has now brought Liberia in line with global best practices with assurances against unjust expropriation.

“Concerning investor protection under the law, a commercial code and an act establishing a commercial court was passed giving birth to the first commercial court which has been in operation since September 2011. Discussions are ongoing to have alternative dispute resolution a full – fleshed part of our justice system in order to hasten the process of court litigation.”

But despite these achievements, Justice Korkpor believes that much still remains to be done so that tangible impacts can be seen on our economy. “For the next five days, we will be involved in serious discussions concerning some key areas in the law that impart our works as judges and the social and economic development in our country. Topics for this Conference have been carefully selected.”

Also making remarks at the conference, Swedish Ambassador accredited to Liberia, Madam Ingrid Wetterqvist said the independence of Judiciary is a key factor in the application of the rule of law.

Ambassador Wetterqvist added that the independence of the Judiciary creates a stability and predictability for foreign investment and anyone wishing to engage with the country.

“The legal system is depending on the three branches of government, Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary and the balance between them and the independence among them. We watched you; we see you and we are interested in working with you to continue the independence of the Judiciary and the application of the rule of law in Liberia.”

For his part, the United States Ambassador accredited to Liberia, Mr. Michael McCarthy disclosed that the United States Government remains committed to protecting the country’s fragile peace.

Ambassador McCarthy further disclosed that the United States Government is also committed to maintaining the long-standing relationship between the two countries.

“We at the U.S. Embassy will continue to maintain our long history of standing beside Liberia to support the justice efforts directly or indirectly. We remain steadfast in our commitment to a peaceful and just Liberia,” Ambassador McCarthy said.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Cllr. Frank Musa Dean pledged that both the Executive and Legislative branches of government are committed to working with the Judiciary in the implementation of recommendations coming out of the 4th National Judicial Convention.

Cllr. Dean, speaking as proxy for President George M. Weah at the National Judicial Conference, said the government with assistance from donor partners including UNDP, Swedish government, United States government and others executed several projects for the building of peace, justice and strong institution.

“There is also the alternative dispute resolution project which is on the way and intended to enhance the access to Justice for all especially the most vulnerable. Two rape courts have also been established in Bong and Nimba Counties and we will be replicated in the other counties,” he stated.

The Justice Minister, who is also Dean of the Supreme Court Bar, praised the Chief Justice Francis Korkpor for organizing the conference to deliberate on the achievement, progress and challenges of the Judiciary.

He noted that at the center of the deliberation, it will no doubt be the concept of the rule of law with those ideals, moral principles, systems and norms reflected in government institutions.

He pointed out that the deliberation will bring into focus the independence of the Judiciary. “There is a need to dispense justice in straight adherence to the principle of law without fear, favor and interference, stated the minister.”

Minister Dean emphasized that under the rule of law, a public office is a public trust. A public trust, he said, places an obligation on those who are holding public offices to reflect on the principle of the country’s democratic system of government by exercising the authority within the confines of the law.

According to him, the rule of law is not only about the independence of the Judiciary and the obligation of those in position of trust. He said it is also about ordinary citizens respecting the law.

Minister Dean: “All persons, institutions and entities must be accountable to the laws that are publicly promulgated and equally enforce.”

The Justice Minister referenced three pillars of the government of Liberia’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development, relating to sustaining the peace.

He said pillar three of the Pro-poor agenda defines a peaceful society as one in which the justice system works for all including the poor and the most marginalized. “The pillar identified injustice as one of the root causes injustice.”

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