Protecting Our Judges In Courts

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

The NEW DEMOCRAT Newspaper on its back page carried a story captioned: JUDGE, SHERIFF FLOGGED,” in which the paper reported that a group of people stormed a Magistrate Court in Maryland County recently, flogging the Magistrate and his Sheriff after learning that they were about to stand trial on an indictable offence.

According to the story, the Magistrate, Joe Hinneh, said the aggressors beat him and the Sheriff after they (aggressors) were charged with a criminal offence in the county. The Magistrate frowned at the behavior of his attackers, accusing them of trying to impede justice in Glalaken District, Maryland County. The judge said the action on the part of those who beat them was due to the lack of security to protect him and court officials from being harmed by aggrieved party litigants.

Lamentably, the magistrate said, “We are living in serious fear as a result of bringing alleged suspects to justice. They flogged us only because of the lack of security here.” The Judge told New Democrat in Maryland County that the action of residents of Glalaken District in Maryland County “beats” his imagination. He said people are taking the law unto their own hands which, he said, was embarrassing the rule of law.

Disappointingly he said, “For people to beat the judge and the court staff because they were accused of committing crimes clearly shows a complete breakdown of the rule of law in Glalaken District, Maryland County.  The Glalaken District Magistrate lamented the absence of police officers in that part of the county, for this, he called on the government to extend police operation to the district so as to bring those alleged perpetrators to justice.

In the same edition yesterday, the newspaper in its back page column, “THIS TOO, IS LIBERIA,” recounted similar behavior towards a judge in Monrovia. The paper noted that the dispensation of justice has become a difficult task because the people who have been charged with this responsibility have been “embarrassed and disgraced.” It then cited an example of the ongoing mercenary trial in which suspects stripped themselves naked and stood on the desk of a judge in protest of delays in their case. It also used the recent situation with the flogging of the magistrate and sheriff in Maryland.

Regrettably it is nauseating to note that some individuals would resort to such violent and unlawful action against court officials.

As it is known under our adversarial system, the judges are neutral persons charged with the responsibility of deciding a case or dispute based on evidence adduced by opposing sides in a matter before the court. These judges, who are also referred to as “independent decision makers,” are neutral in the matter and therefore, it is unfortunate that party litigants or individuals who have been accused, like in the case of the Maryland situation, would resort to such uncivilized and unlawful acts.

The judge, as we know, is not a party litigant in a case, but someone who resides over the case to decide based on the preponderance of evidence (in civil matter) and evidence beyond all reasonable doubt (in criminal matters) adduced by the opposing sides in a given matter. And so to resort to violent or unlawful act against someone like a judge, who in the Liberian parlance we say, “Has no fish to fry,” is unfortunate and a threat to the dispensation of justice in this country, as the New Democrat alluded in its column yesterday.

My fear about this kind of act against court officials has the potential of instilling fear and apprehension in individuals who are asked to sit on cases as judges. It is common sense that every individual, no matter where one finds himself or herself, is always concerned about life. This is why it is said that self-perseverance is paramount to every individual.

These latest developments should claim the attention of those responsible for such matter. Security should not only be for the heads of the three branches and selectively other officials of government, but also a judge, who is also a public official, with assignment in the court.

Since it is always said that “we learn from mistakes,” so should it be in this matter that the failure to provide protection for judges, thus making them vulnerable to such acts, should make those concerned to see reason to take corrective measures to protect court officials. People who engage in such act should be made to know that their actions are unlawful, and should be made to face the full weight of the law.

This, I believe will send a signal to those who are bent on such act of disrespecting judges or physically attacking judges, who are not party or party litigant to a case before the court. I recall how one Prince Toe, then an official of government, was punished by the higher court for inhumane acts against one court official, Joseph Sackor Doe. Such measures are necessary to protect court officials, or else, judges would be working in fear on ground that they can be attacked anytime.

Until those concerned in such matters can begin to act properly to protect court officials, like judges, and that people who engage in such conduct are made to know that this is a country of law and not men, I Rest My Case.

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