By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy &
The Justice in Chamber at the Supreme Court, Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, has reserved further hearings into the case involving the closure of the Chronicle Newspaper for the full bench of the Supreme Court. Associate Justice who was sitting in chambers for Associate Justice Philip Banks told parties yesterday that his decision was against the backdrop that some constitutional questions raised by the petitioner in the case ‘The Republic versus Philipbert Brown, publisher of the Chronicle Newspaper’ that cannot be handled by one justice.
Making the disclosure at a mandatory conference held in the chambers of the Supreme Court, he said as for the restoration of Publisher Brown’s travel rights, he has already ordered that a Writ is issued all parties allowing Mr. Brown travel wherever and whenever necessary and that the police will not restrict or impede his mobility.
Justice Ja’neh said the full bench will convene to answer the questions and entertain full argument into the matter and for issues like the reopening of the offices of the newspaper, the petitioner’s prayer that the parties return to status quo anti and whether the government of Liberia has rights to close the paper, he said that those were the questions that the full bench needed to provide answers for as a matter of urgency.
He then reminded the parties of filing formal briefs before the full bench. Meanwhile, Justice Ja’neh said Associate Justice Banks has now returned to the country and will resume as justice in chambers and that all cases can now be referred to him while cases that were handled and decisions taken by him while serving as justice in chambers will not be reverted.
The Press Union of Liberia filed a writ of Prohibition before the justice in chambers on September 18 praying the court to reverse the government’s decision to close the National Chronicle Newspaper following the August 14 incident when the paper was ordered closed.
The PUL termed government’s decision as ‘illegal’ and a violation of free press and free speech thereby condemning the closure of the paper. The Union said it is the unlimited right of the public to be informed and that the closure of a media institution is threatening.
The petitioner outlined the urgency of the petition as one that inhibits, restrains, and prevents the unorthodox application of scare tactics and martial law practices adopted by the government and also prevents it from demonstrating a callous and blatant disregard for press freedoms, individual rights, as enshrined in the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
Hearing into the petition was rescheduled by the justice in chambers last Wednesday because State lawyers said they had not received a copy of the amended document filed by the lawyers of the PUL.The government lawyers contended that the petitioner’s amended motion was too bulky and that they needed more time to review it before its hearing.
On Friday, Justice Ja’neh promised that final determination of the case would have been announced at yesterday’s hearing following argument pro et cons by both parties. PUL has been standing in defense of the National Chronicle Newspaper since its closure.
The West African Journalists Association headed by former PUL president, Peter Quaqua, has welcomed the PUL petition to reverse the arbitrary closure of the newspaper even though it remains unclear whether or not the publisher has interest in the membership of the Union or if his entity is an institutional member of the Union prior to the incident.
WAJA’s view is that it is unfortunate that the government of Liberia would choose the path of censoring the media while dealing with the crippling Ebola crisis and called on the Supreme Court to relieve the government from any further embarrassment by ordering the reopening of the paper.