ADDRESS OF CHIEF JUSTICE JOHNNIE N. LEWIS, DELIVERED 12 MARCH 2012, AT THE OPENING OF THE MARCH TERM OF THE SUPREME COURT OF LIBERIA
Mr. Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives
Mr. President Pro Tempore and Members of the Liberian Senate
Distinguished Colleagues of the Bench
The Dean and members of the Bar
The President of the National Bar Association
Excellencies, The Doyen and members of the Diplomatic Corps
Ladies and GentlemenWe welcome you today to the formal opening ceremonies of the March Term, 2012, of the Supreme of Liberia. Once again as always we are grateful to the Almighty through whom saving grace we sit before you today able to perform the task with which we have been entrusted. It is an honor to greet you on behalf of the Judiciary. Your presence here is impressive and serves as an encouragement as we welcome you all to these Formal Opening Ceremonies today.
Since the last term of Court, the Judiciary has lost the following employees to the hands of death:
1. James O. Roberts Security Montserrado County
2. Alfred M. Koeing Bailiff “
3. Varney Goyah Chauffeur “
4. Peter Hinneh Caretaker “
5. Boyblue Dweh Bailiff Sinoe County
6. Anthony B. Wiah Assoc. Magistrate Grand Kru County
7. Peter Howard Stip. Magistrate Margibi County
8. Franscis Sundaymah Stip. Magistrate Margibi County
We also regretfully announce the passing of former Probate Court Judge and Former Associate Justice of the Suprem Court His Honour John L. Greaves, Sr.. May his soul and the souls of the earlier mentioned employees rest in perfect peace.
Because today marks the beginning of the New Year for the Judiciary we look forward to an expedient coordination between the various branches of the Government. We must give all adoration to God Almighty for giving us the opportunity of having a successful elections, but let us be reminded that our sole objective as a Government is to uphold and protect the interest of our citizens and those who we have privity with in compliance with the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.
We want to convey much appreciation to the Government of Liberia for the continue cooperation with the Judiciary in all aspects our work of ensuring justice and upholding the rule of law. Toward that goal we have attracted assistance and support from several development partners and friends of the Judiciary:
In late February of this year, the Judiciary received a donation of 249 Manual Typewriters from GIZ. We wish to indicate that while we are very grateful for the generous donation, there has been numerous complaints from judges of subordinate courts indicating that the typewriters are mal-functioning.
My fellow colleagues of the Bench, ladies and gentlemen of the Bar, our partners, fellow citizens.
At the opening of the March A.D. 2011 Term of the Supreme Court we indicated that we had completed the signing of contracts for the construction of three circuit courts in Grand Kru, Sinoe, and River Gee; and the construction of the Paynesville Magisterial Court. In line with ensuring that the Judiciary is manifestly independent even in its appearance, we are pleased, at this juncture, to inform you that the construction of the three Circuit Courts earlier mentioned is well in progress and about eighty percent completed. The Judiciary has also completed the construction of the Circuit Court of the 16th Judicial Circuit, Gbarpolu County; and the Paynesville Magisterial Court. All of the construction these projects were sponsored by the Government of Liberia through budgetary allocation to the Judiciary.
In addition to the Government’s commitment and the persuasive efforts of the Judiciary’s strong technical team headed by our Acting Court Administrator, we are pleased to have you informed that in the past few weeks the Ministry of Planning ha communicated to the Office of the Court Administrator that the Ministry of Finance has sourced funding for the following magisterial courts construction projects: Gardnerville Magisterial Court, Montserrado County; Pleebo Magisterial Court, Maryland County; and Duo Magisterial Court, Nimba County.
Similarly, renovation on the Lofa County Circuit Court building has been completed by the UNDP and is currently hosting the Court, however we are yet to receive the necessary furnishing from UNDP for the Court under said arrangement. The construction of the Saclepea Magisterial in Nimba County is at completion stage. The Saclepea project was jointly funded by the Government of Liberia and our international partners through the UNDP.
The Judiciary in collaboration with other justice sectors has benefited from funds under the Justice and Security Trust Fund allocated to improve justice and security institutions. We are again pleased to inform you that the two projects funded under said program: Toe Town Magisterial Court and the Grand Bassa Circuit Court are completed. Credit once again to the Technical Team of the Judiciary.
We are pleased also to inform you that the portion of our budget on scholarships which was deleted or omitted from the National Budget 2010/2011 and which was reported as a challenge at the March 2011 Term of the Supreme Court because the beneficiaries of the scholarship have a contractual obligation to the Judiciary and vice versa, is no longer a challenge as the scholarship scheme has been reactivated with allocation to the budget of the Judiciary by the Government of Liberia.
Further, we are pleased to announce here that the Judiciary, through the Tax Court and our revenue department has remitted nearly a million United States Dollars to Government Revenue collected from indebted companies and from purchases made by the Judiciary with reference to vendors’ sale turn over tax.
The Judiciary is currently in a collaborative effort with international partners on the Liberian Peace Building Program reference the Justice and Security Regional Hub. In September, 2010, the honorable Minister of Justice, Cllr. Christina Tarr signed an MOU with the Peace Building Mission for the establishment of five regional hubs for justice and security institutions which is to further strengthen security and rule of law to all regions of our country, and with Cllr. Tarr been an active and collaborative Dean of the Supreme Court Bar, in her capacity as Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia stressed the urgent need for the Judiciary’s presence within the Hub’s framework-hats off to you Madam Minister. In furtherance thereof, the launching of the first of five regional hubs which is to shortly take place in Gbarnga, Bong County, will facilitate the coordination of our work with other arms of the Government, and provide greater access to justice for all citizens and residents of Liberia in spite of what part of the country they reside, and to improve the security welfare of citizens in various regions of Liberia most especially when the drawdown of UNMIL is eminent. In our effort to realize the success of the Hub program, all justice sector institutions have decided to breakdown plans and create technical sectorial working groups. Again from the Office of the Court Administrator, we are informed that the sectorial technical working group reference the record management of the Hub, which is headed by the Resident Circuit Judge of the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, His Honour Yusuf D. Kaba, has completed all of the templates for the various institutions involved and is in the process of contracting a software developer who will interlink the various systems within the Hub operations. In this regard we are indeed grateful to our international partners.
I remember once upon a time in a meeting with the then DRSG, Her Ladyship Henrietta Mensa-Bonsu, I was reluctant in accepting the “quick impact” proposal for magisterial courts, but after a careful consideration of our dire need for courts I considered that said modules of courts be constructed only in remote areas of the hinterland of Liberia. Today I must say a big thank you to the Legal and Justice Support Division of UNMIL for the number of courts that has thus far been constructed under the quick impact program and those yet to be constructed. Said projects have alleviated the plights of our magistrates in those areas.
In furtherance of our desire to ensure that the Judiciary is manned by competent men and women who have been trained and understand the intricacies of the application of our laws, we have begun the deployment of Associate Magistrates trained by the James A.A. Pierre Judicial Institute under the Professional Magistrate Training Program, to various parts of the country. They have been deployed to the following counties: Bong, Maryland, Margibi, and to other circuits.
The sectorial plan for the Judiciary under the PRS II whose working group is headed by Associate Justice Kabineh M. Ja’neh, has made significant progress thus far. We must convey that said plan is at the stage which is termed as the M&E component thereby, leading the way for the stakeholders to do a percentage based analysis.
At this stage we want to give special recognition to the following judges of subordinate courts who have performed excellently based on the judges’ returns for the November Term of the Circuit Courts: His Honour James W. Zotaa, Resident Circuit Judge, Criminal Court ‘A’, who disposed all 33 cases on his docket for the period; Her Honour Evelina Z. Quaqua, Assigned Circuit Judge, Criminal Court ‘E’ disposed of all 51 cases on her docket for the period; His Honour George S. Wiles, Jr., Resident Circuit Judge, 7th Judicial Circuit, Grand Gedeh County, disposed 61 Civil Cases and three Criminal Cases representing all of the cases on his docket for the period; His Honour J. Boima Kontoe, Resident Circuit, 9th Judicial Circuit, Bong County, disposed 11 Criminal Cases and 15 Probate Cases representing all of the cases on his docket for the period; Her Honour Mardea T. Chenoweth, Resident Circuit Judge, Margibi County, disposed six Criminal Cases and 52 Probate Cases representing all of the cases on her docket for the period under review. Of the five judges who work have been highlighted, two are women-indeed gender equity. There are other judges who also performed excellently though with a minute number of cases on their docket. We encourage other judges of lower courts to emulate the example of the judges named herein, being mindful however of need for careful examination of the facts and the controlling law of every case that come before them.
After recounting our successes made thus far, we would not attempt to have you believe that the Judiciary is without challenges. We wish to state here in no uncertain terms that while we appreciate the support we have received and the strides we have made with therewith, there is yet much to be desired and achieved. We still have goals which remain unmet and projects and aspirations unrealized.
Meeting these challenges starts with members of this Bench working with coherence and in the best in of the Republic to ensure that our courts are respected and remain above reproach. As Chief Justice, I assume the greatest responsibility in consonance with my colleagues to ensure that the rule of law is upheld in Liberia, no matter how our personal interests are affected thereby. We shall do whatever is necessary to ensure that the confidence of the Liberia people in Judiciary as an institution of justice in which justice is shall be done to all is ever heightened and never eroded. We are convinced that while as Justices of this Bench we may sometime have diverging opinions, but in the mind and heart of every Justice on this Bench still remains the ultimate burden of upholding the integrity of this Supreme Court. (This is our collective baby)
We also look forward to the continued cooperation of the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch in the enhancement of the work of the Judiciary which borders on adequate budgetary support bearing in mind that this Branch of Government is the cornerstone upon which our democracy and development is contingent. Therefore the Judiciary in all due consideration, must have a satisfactory budgetary support in order to build the capacity that we need thereby securing the rights of our people and foreign investments which would in turn increase our GDP as a nation. We call upon the Ministry of Justice, the Liberian National Bar Association, the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, and every individual lawyer in this jurisdiction to ensure that our justice system remains the hallmark for the peace and stability of our nation.
One area which has claimed our attention is the Public Defenders Program which from all indications though has challenges, needs to be more proactive. We therefore call on the Coordinator of the program, Cllr. J. D. Bayogar Junius to be more vigilant in coordinating the activities of public defenders subjected to him as this program is intended to improve the justice sector. We also appeal to the Solicitor General who although is working assiduously with the prosecution team even to the level of the Magistrate Sitting Program, to employ more rigid measures on his junior county attorneys to maximize performance. We appeal to our partners in progress to aid us with the usual assistance that will enable the Public Defender Program meet the challenges ahead.
We want to assure the Government, the Press and our citizenry that this court, recognizing that freedom of speech and of the press is a fundamental right guaranteed under our Constitution, is and has always been protective of that right. However, it has always been the duty of the court, when brought to its attention, to guide against the abuse of the right to freedom of speech and of the press as provided for under Article 15 of the Constitution. We encourage a press that would be fearless in reporting the truth without prejudice. But as Justice Azango said, “Liberty of the press must not be confounded with license or abuse of that liberty.”
We remain confident that in spite of the challenges we are confronted with as a Branch of Government and as a Government, the rule of law in Liberia will continue to be the pillar of our statehood to which all Liberians shall be committed.
As we begin another sojourn upon the duties to which we have been called and entrusted, we employ the God of our Fathers to guide and be the author of our every decision, and save the State.
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