Chief Justice Francis Korkpor says two important amendments have been made to the Judicial and the Criminal Procedural Laws which present new challenges in the administration and dispensation of justice in the country.
The new laws which the high Court Chief Justice mentioned that need the attention of the judicial system are “An Act to Amend Chapter 17 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, Judiciary Law , Chapter 4, relating to jurisdiction of the Debt Court , Chapter 7 relating to the Magisterial Courts and related matters. As well as An Act to amend Title 1 of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, Criminal Procedure , Chapter 22 relating to juries and jurors.”
Delivering the opening address for the Supreme Court’s October term of court 2013 yesterday, Chief Justice Korkpor said Circuit Courts will now conduct jury trials with six jurors instead of 12 jurors as was before and that means juror matters will now be administered by a jury management office around the country in keeping with the new jury law.
Among other things, Chief Justice Korkpor said the jurisdiction of the Magisterial Courts has been increased; magistrates can now exercise trial jurisdiction over all first, second and third misdemeanor cases instead of only infractions and petty larceny as was before and an appeal from the magistrate courts to the circuit courts will be heard on appellate review based on trial records of the Magisterial Court.
The Supreme Court observed that the new amendments require a substantial capital outlay which was not budgeted for and that while steps are being taken to address the financial implications, it is important that judges, lawyers and other relevant judicial personnel be trained for effective implementation of the new legislations.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Korkpor said everyone in Liberia is entitled to certain rights protected under the laws of the country and in order to continue to enjoy the full protection of said rights all must act within the confines of those laws.
He named the right to freedom of speech and of the press; the right to appeal as those rights guaranteed rights under the Constitution but noted that even the most precious among those rights which are the right to life and property protected under Article 20 of the Constitution are not without limitations in the exercise of these rights. He said therefore even if the right to an appeal is not self-executing and it is not a case law as such it did not evolve by stare decisis instead it is a clear mandatory provision of the statute that every party wishing to be heard by the court must follow.
“This court in fidelity to its duty can only entertain matters properly before it on appeal neither the judgemnt amount nor the category or status of a person involved can adulterate our consideration for an appeal statute,” he explained.
He announced that in the clear language of the appeal statute that failure to comply with any of the requirements laid down within the time allowed by statutute will be ground for dimissal of the appeal and where a party abandons the process the Supreme Court is without jurisdiction to hear the appeal statute on its merit.
The Chief Justice said the appeal will be dismissed and the judgment of the lower court will be ordered enforced. This has always been the position of the Supreme Court on the direction of statute passed by the Legislature under mandates of the Constitution.
He said the Judiciary can deliver quality justice only if it has qualified persons in its sector adding that if the appeal process or statute is amended or repealed, the Bench will not take a position otherwise. He reminded the lawyers as well as judges to be cognizant of the number of cases on the trial docket which amounts to 188 and 52 cases on the motion calendar.
He said with all the progress being made in discharging of cases, the case docket seems to be going no where and that there have been cases in the docket which dates as far back at to 2000 and announced that cases on the docket for more than five years will be placed in the inactive docket known as dormant docket giving way to the court to pay attention to current cases thereby giving them priority.
The dean of the Supreme Court, Christiana Tah, Liberia’s Justice Minister said time is fleeting and everyone should be mindful of the value of the court and specumspectly conduct themselves in the wisdom of its use.
Attorney General Tah said it is her prayer that their every action during this term of court will continue to infuse their system with meaningful improvement toward the perfection to promote a just and fair institution. She welcomed the Korkpor-Bench and disclosed that the Monriva City Court with a capacity of 350 is now holding about 1, 043 which signifies a need to support pre-trial detention.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has made several appointments at the level of the Judiciary among which is the appointment of a project officer but the president of the Liberia National Bar Association, Theophilus Gould said sternly that the Supreme Court is not an NGO therefore the project officer should not be made to solicit funds which will bring to question the integrity of the entire system.
He also cationed the Supreme Court that it is illegal for persons trained by the Judicial Institute to be appointed as magisterates, a position for judges because it will be like reintroducing apprenticship and that that would not be taken kindly by the Bar Association.