Justice SGBV Unit Reviewed In-Camera Trial Procedure

The Ministry of Justice Sexual and Gender Based Violence Crime Unit has concluded a one-day review and validation of the in-camera trial procedure set up to prosecute sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) cases in Criminal Court “E” at the Temple of Justice.

At the opening of the United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) sponsored exercise, the    Chief Prosecutor of the Unit, Felecia Coleman said before and after the civil crisis, not much was done to address sexual and gender based issues and that most of the time the issue of sexual violence was swept under the carpet. She said not very much has been done in the areas of sexual and gender based violence before the 1990s.

She recalled that of the 17 cases on the trial docket only one was tried and one reminded for trial. In 2006, the President of Liberia appealed to the judiciary to improve the trial of SGBVs. She said in 2008 the judicial law was amended with special divisions having exclusive jurisdiction.

The Chief prosecutor said in December 2012, the mobile in-camera screen was launched and a procedure was developed. She said it is at this gathering that recommendations will derive as to how to use the procedure for SGBV cases.

The opening remarks were made by Judge James E. Jones, President of the Trial Judges Association of Liberia.  He said where knowledge is increased by the hour, in-service training cannot be over emphasized.

He challenged the organizers to have a training that will be holistic, one that will not overlook previous trainings but will take into consideration every aspect of the law and the rights of the citizens. He also emphasized that everyone needs to be trained.

He said one could imagine a judge being trained in every aspect and where there is no lawyer or prosecutor; the work can still go on and that is happening in other countries but wondered if judges are trained at that level in Liberia to entertain that argument.

He stressed that there should not be only training but monitoring and evaluation noting that he does not know if it is in other areas or sectors of the country but the judiciary lacks that aspect. No one knows who is functioning or not. How many appeals are made during a term and take for example, my own court, how many appeals came out of the Debt Court; how many are reminded?

As you proceed with the review and validation, we the judges need to enhance our own competences to attract other judicial efforts from other county judiciaries; “and this is only done if we take our jobs seriously.”

The deputy supervisor of the public defenders said they were happy for the interaction and hoped that in the future there will be some progress. He said their concern in the defense system has always been about the Rape Court noting that it is not gender balanced.

He recommended that it is their hope that in the future it will be solved by a male judge to see how he can handle it.

The Program Advisor of the Government UN GBV JP, Madhumita Sarkar said that the dream of Liberia is far more advance then many countries including hers adding that people around the world do recognize that something is moving very fast in this country.

“It is the Republic of Liberia that we want to address the issue and it cannot be changed overnight; we cannot expect that we are going to have hundred convictions in a year, it’s a process and it will take time; by the time it reaches all parts of this country,” she said.

She has already identified some problems in the Liberian judiciary which she considered huge barriers for prosecution of cases among which she said is limitation of investigation because of lack of mobilizing government CPO officers; sometimes they do not get to meet the survivors in time and sometimes survivors do not get to the hospitals on time.

“It is mandatory that we look at confidentiality which is a good beginning.  I will still like to plead with you that when something is new there is always a lot of resistance but let us start to use it so that people know what challenges the government is faced with. Let us look at it from the point of the victims. The victims are getting younger and younger by the day. The year data from the health facilities, police and the court, 90 percent of our victims are children below 15 years,” she reported.

She further said that will serve as a protection for the victims who sit behind so that she does not feel threatened or does not feel overpowered by others who are questioning her. “She feels that you are actually providing her a safe space to say what she wants to say confidently. Just let’s look at that and let’s give her the confidence she needs because she is already traumatized,” she concluded.

The trial procedure as explained by the Deputy Chief Prosecutor of the Unit, George Sagbeh, Sr. and the process ended with the participants all concurring with the in-camera procedure for the trial of SGBV…