By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Lawyers in the country last Friday joined other lawyers worldwide in observance of Law Day which originated from the United States many years ago “to reflect on the role of law in the foundation of the country and to recognize its importance for society.” Accordingly, lawyers in the country under the banner of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) held appropriate activities to commemorate day.
The Bar members, clad in T-shirts, some with their local bars’ banners, along with students of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, who are considered associate members, until graduation, began this year’s celebration in Liberia with a parade from the Law Library on Ashmun Street to the Temple of Justice in Monrovia, where an indoor program was held.
During the well-attended program which was also graced with the presence of Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor, the Resident Judge of the 6th Judicial Circuit Civil Law Court, his honor, Yussif Kaba delivered the address for the day on the topic: “Chapter 64 Of The Civil Procedure Law- Distinguishing Between Investigative Survey and Arbitration Under the Aegis Of The Court In The Resolution Land Dispute.“ Before delving into the subject matter, Judge Kaba recognized the fact that “Law Day symbolizes a unique expression of our democratic will and aspiration” and that “it is symbolic of our belief in the rule of law and the legal system that ensures and preserves.”
As rightly observed by the speaker, the topic was timely, considering the colossal of land disputes and conflicts in the country. He noted that this has been compounded by the recent history of civil crises and unrest, which he observed resulted in displacement and dislocation of large number of the country’s population, thereby resulting in abandonment of real and personal properties for protracted period, and the destruction or misplacement of title instruments.
For me, those who thought of this topic deserve a great commendation for brainstorming on this and coming up with it in view of the many land disputes that continue to engulf the nation. As we speak, there is a potential threat of conflict between the people of Grand Gedeh and Rivergee, just to name one of many as giving a litany of these many conflicts, individually and regionally, may divert the essence of this piece. This is why I was not surprised when the speaker said although there is no statistics on hand to quantify the volume of such cases pending before all of the courts, it is safe to assume that more than half of all the cases before the court one way or the other involve issues relating to or having to do with land disputes.
Let me say that the speech delivered by the judge has been reported in the media and that this article is not intended to replicate or duplicate what had already been reported in the media. For us, Judge Kaba’s speech, because of its richness and substance, is one of the longest news stories this paper had ever produced.
Today, my focus is on the closing point of the speaker, which does not relate to the subject matter, but is of great importance for discussion and reflection. It was because of the importance of such matter that he begged the ‘indulgence’ of his colleagues and others to pinpoint these critical issues and questions, which, from my observations, are not outlandish in the judicial arena.
To this he said, “Finally, I beg your indulgence for permission to weigh in on the discussion that has to do with the over crowdedness of the docket of the Sixth Judicial Circuit and suggestions as to how this can be tackled. Many, including judges, have recommended that the way to go about to resolve this situation is the creation of other division of the court. This is certainly the way to go about it. But will this resolve the issue of over crowdedness? If experience is anything to go by, then we need to consider the creation of divisions in the First Judicial Circuit and the impact these divisions had on the dockets of the various assizes of that circuit.
He went on: ‘All of these assizes are experiencing an astronomical rise in their respective dockets. A clear manifestation of this is the size of pre-trial detainees presently languishing at the Monrovia Central Prison awaiting trial. That number added to the many others on bail awaiting trial clearly demonstrate the challenges that our justice system faces in disposing of cases.
The judge noted; “This shows that our problem is beyond the creation of division. It is systematic. We should consider that the current system was built many decades ago when the economic activities in the country was not as they are today, and the size of the population of the country was far below the current level.
In finding a solution to these many concerns and questions, he is proposing commission to conduct a study on our judicial system with the end purpose of determining what can be done to improve on our capacity to speed up the movement of cases on the docket of our various courts to meet the need of our current reality.
He said, “Questions such as the below and many others need to be explored: Do we need to deploy more than a judge to a circuit during any given term? Should the number of days in a term of court be increased? Should we adopt the Commercial Court module for most of our courts? Are there needs for the creation of appellate courts below the Supreme Court? Is the report of the 1999 Judicial Reform Commission still relevant and applicable to the resolution of the current challenges and difficulties faced by our judicial system? Should the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy conduct some administrative adjudicatory function in cases involving land controversy or dispute, and if so, what should be the scope and limit of such function, and what mechanism for judicial review should be put in place?.
In view of these important concerns and questions outlined by the judge, there is a need to consider the issue of a study on the judiciary to finding solutions to some of these matters. As in the case of Monrovia, it was built for certain number of residents; today, this number has perhaps tripled or more and creating problems for its utilities and the environment. Likewise, this could be with the courts, as the judge observed that “the current system was built many decades ago when the economic activities in the country was not as they are today, and the size of the population of the country was far below the current level.”
As stated earlier, these concerns and questions raised at this important occasion have for sometimes been raised by others. The issue of the over crowdedness of the docket, the issue of an appellate court below the Supreme Court, the issue of pre-trial detainees languishing at the Monrovia Central Prison and also if it is possible to consider the module of the commercial Court.
While these closing comments and concerns were not part of the discussion of the day, they are pertinent to building a strong judiciary in the dispensation of justice. This is why I feel the issue of conducting a study should be considered. But my only concern is that if this is done, it should not be business as usual. We are noted for holding successful fora, but the problem has always been implementation, thus making the outcomes of such study, discussions, symposia and similar inefficacious.
As the speaker envisaged, this, I also believe, will address the “current challenges and difficulties” facing the judiciary. Until we, as a nation and especially those who are inseparably connected to the judiciary, realize the importance of such study, I Rest My Case.