By: Timothy T. Seaklon
Liberia’s Information Minister, Lewis G. Brown, has noted that recent development relative to the Supreme Court suspension of Counselor Tah’s license to practice law and its subsequent lifting without the interference of the Presidency is an indication that Liberia is breaking away from the past.
Minister Brown said, “Last week, the President directed that Counselor Christiana Tah resumes the important duties of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Republic of Liberia. The President’s directive followed the lifting by the Supreme Court of the suspension of Counselor Tah’s license to practice law.”
He further observed that “the judicial action and the corresponding response of the executive ought not to pass unnoticed because they are instructive of the society we aspire to become, and testify to how far we have travelled to institutionalize the rule of law.”
Speaking during the Information Ministry’s weekly Press briefing last Thursday, Minister Brown said a few years ago, a different course was followed with a different precedent established.
He noted that a similar suspension by the Supreme Court of the license to practice law of a Justice Minister and Attorney General witnessed the public trouncing of the Supreme Court by the presidency.
Minister Brown said the court’s decision was summarily reversed and another public brush with the courts, occasioned the forceful resignation and replacement of the court’s bench, adding “Needless to say, the courts withered in irrelevance.”
He observed that the courts shall say what the law is, the bedrock of governing under the rule of law. The Information Minister further said naturally therefore, when the courts are made to be weak, notwithstanding how strong and dominant the presidency may appear to be Liberia’s democratic aspirations fade and the society becomes weak, lawless and insecure.
He noted that such is the ripple effect of undermining the courts as the final venue for the adjudication of disputes and the resolution of claims.
“That we must continue to govern under the rule of law is not a choice we must make only when it seems easy to
do, or when it affects others with whom we share no affinity. It is a collective charge we must always keep because it is right, and it makes our communities safer and our society better. This is the lesson to be drawn here,” he said.
Minister Brown said a second, and equally important feature of this recent experience, which is worthy of notice, is the implication it pervades for an imperial presidency.
“The imperial presidency effectively installs a president as the law of the land, affording the presidency “special powers”, often not assigned by the Constitution, to decide all matters. Simply put, under the imperial presidency, everything begins with the president and ends with the president,” Mr. Brown said.
He noted that because it essentially negates the tripod structure of the State and undermines the independence and coordination which ought to exist between the branches of the government, the imperial presidency thrives where the rule of law is weak.
Minister Brown also said the appearance of dominance which the imperial presidency exudes is really a mirage intended to choke off the fundamental principles of check and balance for which the branches exist, as well as undermine the foundational doctrine of the separation of powers.
“Expressed in more graphic terms, under the imperial presidency, the Legislature is rubber-stamped into obedience and the courts are marginalized from being the proper venues for the adjudication of civil and criminal disputes. Sadly, we came to see that as the imperial presidency grew larger; the Liberian State became smaller and we lost our bearings,” Minister opined.