Mr. President and First Lady
Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives
Mr. President Pro Tempore and members of the Liberian Senate
Mr. Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia
Former chief Justices and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia
Honorable Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court Bar
His Excellency, the Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic and consular corps.
The officers and members of the Liberian National Bar Association
The President and members of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia
The President and Members of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia
The President and members of the Prosecutors Association of Liberia
The President and members of the Public Defenders Association of Liberia
The Representatives of bilateral and multilateral organizations
Representatives of International Non-governmental organizations
Representatives of Liberian Civil Society organizations
Representatives of the Inter-religious Counsel
Madam Court Administrator and the staff of the Judiciary
Members of the fourth estate
Other distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Once again, the omnipotent master of the Universe has permitted us to congregate in this great hall of justice for the purpose opening the Supreme Court for the October Term of Court, the first term of Court of this Court as mandated by the Judiciary Law of Liberia. We are cognizant of the fact that as a result the elections related cases that were handled by this Court, your honors did not close the March Term of Court early enough in order to have adequate time for a restful vacation. All the same, on behalf of the Liberian National Bar Association, we welcome you from your vacation, without entertaining any doubt that you are prepared and energized to perform your constitutional duties of being the final arbiter of all constitutional issues and exercising appellate jurisdiction over all cases, as well as original jurisdiction over cases involving ambassadors, public ministers and cases in which a county is a party, consistent with Article 66 of the Constitution of Liberia. We wish you the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job to listen to every case that is presented in this Court, as well good health and the required physical strength in the performance of your duties. We hope and pray that your colleague, His Honor Joseph N. Nagbe will join you soon with a clean bill of health from his doctor.
We note with sadness the passing of a fifteen active judicial officers beginning with His Honor George C. Katakpa, the late Resident Judge of Criminal Court “E”, 9th Judicial Circuit, Bong County and four former judicial officers, namely, His Honor Kamoh Soko Sackor, former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Her Honor Emma Shannon Walser, the late Judge Resident Judge of the First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Assizes “A” and His Honor Richard Flomo, former Resident Judge of the 9th Judicial Circuit, Bong County and Brig. General Jehu T. Stryker, former Marshall of the Supreme Court of Liberia. WE express condolences to the bereaved families on behalf of the LNBA.
We applaud your honors for the tremendous progress made, since the last opening of this court, in human resource development and infrastructural development. We also commend the court for hosting a national judicial conference. We note that these laudable efforts of the Judiciary would not have yielded the expected results without the cooperation of the government of Liberia and its international partners. We encourage the judiciary to continue these capacity-building efforts. We also call on government to increase the budget of the Judiciary.
We take particular note of the issues of judicial influence and the freedom of expression highlighted in the Opening Address. 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 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, no reaction of a judicial officer at any level of the judiciary should be for the protection of the image of the judiciary. 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. Public opinions about a judge is not a pre-condition for maintaining a judicial office. 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. 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. For example on one occasion, the late Chief Justice Johnny Lewis said, “The judiciary needs to be cleaned up and public confidence restored in the courts system” Liberia: Too few judges, too many cases snag rule of law – Liberia | ReliefWeb. At the opening of the May Term of Court, the press reported the following on 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.” Chief Justice Admits to Judges’ Corruption (theworldnews.net). 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 conducts 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. There is more good in criticism than any harm that may be done by it. We cannot build a free society without freedom of expression.
On the issue of delay in bringing finality to cases at the Supreme Court, the LNBA joins Your Honor 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. It is obvious that the failure or delay in making decisions in cases that have been argued before this court is also a major source of delay in concluding cases brought before this court on appeal. Such actions on the part of this Court tends to undermine public confidence in the Judiciary.
There is another observation about this 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, in order 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.
Your honors and members of the Supreme Bar, as today is the last occasion for me to address this Court as President of the Liberian National Bar Association, permit me to use this occasion to express the deep joy that I have felt each time that I have stood here to speak on behalf of the Liberian National Bar Association. On this case, I want to thank your honors for the patience that you have had to listen to my views, which occasionally, may not have been as complementary as you would have loved them to be. I entertain no doubt that you will accord my successor an even greater level of cooperation and patience. May the Almighty God Bless your honors and this Court for the entire period of the October Term of Court.
I thank you.