By Tiawan S. Gongloe
President of the Liberian National Bar Association
Your honors, the Chief Justice & Associate Justices of the Honorable, the Supreme Court of Liberia
Mr. Speaker and members of the House of Representatives
Mr. President Pro Tempore and Members of the Senate
Former Chief Justices and Associate Justices
Hon. Minister of Justice and dean of the Supreme Court Bar
The Doyen and Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Madam President and Members of the National Association of the Trial Judges
Mr. Vice President and Members of the Liberian National Bar Association
Mr. President and Members of the Association of Female Lawyers
Mr. President and Members of the Prosecution Association of Liberia
Mr. President and members of the National Association of Public Defenders.
Madam Court Administrator and Staff of the Judiciary
Members of the Fourth Estate
Other distinguished Ladies and gentlemen
On behalf of the Liberian National Bar Association, we congratulate your honors for opening the Court for the March Term of Court. Today, we are unable to say to your Honors, “welcome from a well-deserved vacation” as we usually do, because we know, and it is public knowledge, that you did not rest during the last term of this Court, as a result of the several election cases that were brought before you. We hope that during this term of court you will find some time to rest, after hearing all cases growing out of the past Special Senatorial Election that may be brought before you.
With the reported arrival of vaccines for preventing the spread of Covid-19, we hope that eventually, social-distancing will soon come to an end and that life will soon return from the new normal to the old normal. Until that time comes, we will continue to cooperate with this Court in abiding by the measures contained in Judicial Order number 8.
We mourn the deaths of Counsellors A. Wallace Octavius Obey, former County Attorney of Nimba and Montserrado Counties, former Solicitor General and former Resident Circuit Judge, First Judicial Circuit, Criminal Assizes “A” and Counsellor Farmere G. Stubblefield, who served the Grievance and Ethics Committee of the Supreme Court with great dedication. We also mourn the deaths of the other judicial officers named by your honor. We express our deep condolences to their families and pray that their souls and the souls of all faithful departed rest in peace.
We applaud this Court for punishing lawyers and judges who fail to uphold the dignity of the legal profession as lawyers and judges. This is the only way to promote public confidence in the legal profession. The Liberian National Bar Association calls on all lawyers both in the bar and on the bench to conduct themselves in ways that will maintain the dignity of the profession and stimulate the highest degree of respect for the legal profession in Liberia and abroad. We should be aware that because the lack of respect for the rule of law in Liberia was one of the contributing factors of the Liberian civil conflict, all lawyers and judges are being very closely watched by Liberians and members of the international community who may take actions against any of us based on information gathered by them. Our best choice as Liberian lawyers and judges is to maintain the highest degree of integrity, consistent with our oath of office as lawyers. While there may be different reactions to the action taken by the American Government against one of our members and the statement on judicial corruption made by that government, we should not forget that on June 18, 1987, the entire members of this bench under the gavel of Chief Justice James N. Nagbe were asked by President Samuel Kanyon Doe to resign because he had information that all members of the bench were corrupt. While members of the Liberian National Bar Association and the general public were waiting to see members of the bench or at least some of them, prove the President wrong, they instead resigned, thereby proving the President right that they were corrupt.
We join your honor in thanking the American Bar Association (ABA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), the United States Department of Justice, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for their various contributions to strengthening the judiciary.
On behalf of the LNBA, we congratulate the new judges appointed during the last term of the Court and wish them success in their various courts. We urge them to maintain neutrality, impartiality, fairness, independence, and excellent judicial temperament at all times and in all cases, without distinction.
Your honor the LNBA applauds the effort that is being made by your administration for a faster hearing and disposition of cases at the magisterial and circuit court levels. However, the LNBA appeals to your administration to include the Supreme Court of Liberia in the process. Some members of the LNBA have complained to the bar that the hearing of cases is also delayed at the Supreme Court and that there have been many cases heard but not disposed of by this Court. This Court must, as a matter of necessity, lead the lower courts by example. Perhaps, except for election cases, it may be better for your honors to make decisions on all the cases that you have heard, thus far, before proceeding to hear new cases. This Court has a past record that shows that it is capable of disposing of many cases in one year when it decides to do so. In 1988, for example, this Court disposed of 82 cases, the highest, thus far, since 1970 when the court decided 67 cases in one year.
Your honor, all public figures, including government officials, celebrities, and all other persons, who by their positions or actions become well-known to the public, are potential targets of suspicions, gossips, and even untrue public statements and publications. You are not unique in this regard. On behalf of the LNBA, we urge you to remain focused on the performance of your duty as Chief Justice, consistent with the Constitution of Liberia.
While we do not evidence that you engaged in torture while you worked at the Ministry of Justice. Your honor, we are, however, constrained to differ with your honor on your statement that Baccus Mathews, Oscar Quiah, and others who were arrested after the April 14, 1979 street protest against the increment in the price of rice were not political prisoners. Your honor, the protest was against a government policy to increase the price of rice and those opposed to that policy exercised their constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the Government of Liberia not to implement that policy. Almost all dissenting voices in Liberia at that time, including leaders of pressure groups such as the Progressive Alliance of Liberia, the Movement for Justice in Africa, and student organizations including the University of Liberia Students Union and LINSU, were silenced by arrests and threats of arrests. Those arrested were neither taken to a police station for the investigation to determine probable cause nor were they taken to any magisterial court. They were incarcerated at the Monrovia Central Prison without a writ. It was only after a few days that they were issued a writ of arrest and charged with treason. When citizens are arrested for exercising their civil and political rights and arbitrarily detained, there can be no other expression that fits them other than political prisoners. A political prisoner, according to https://www.britannica.com/ is a person who is imprisoned because that person’s actions or beliefs are contrary to those of his or her government.
We could not resist making this clarification because some of us were participants in that street protest which became violent when the police on the order of President Tolbert shot dead more than one hundred armless citizens of Liberia and buried them in a mass grave. The history of Liberia must be told correctly to avoid mass misinformation and a repeat of the mistakes of past governments by succeeding governments of Liberia. With these brief remarks in response to your honor’s opening address, we wish you a successful March Term of Court.
I thank you.
Courtesy: The Perspective