By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy
Chief Justice Francis Korkpor has urged magistrates in Monrovia and its environs to use their discretionary powers when handling cases at this time of Liberia’s critical period and that everyone needs to join in the national fight against the spread of Ebola in their respective positions and portfolio.
The Chief Justice, who met with his magistrates yesterday to discuss ways to find options to detention during the Ebola crisis, said it is time that they make maximum use of the safeguard under the law which provides options for arrests and detentions.
He read Sections 10.12 and 13.5 of the Criminal Procedure Law which gives discretionary powers in cases and urged the judges in the courts of non records to exercise such powers at this time especially on a case by case basis given the facts and circumstances prevailing.
He called on the magistrates to exercise this power prudently because it is only hard core criminals that should be in jail thereby encouraging them to exercise options and noted that when one prays for a writ of arrest, it is depended upon the courts to adjudge that summon is rather necessary especially in bailable offences.
Chief Justice Korkpor said the rigid requirement of bonds should not take precedence over the substance of the case and also appealed to the public defenders to work with the judges to keep people out of prisons at this time.
“Keep the law and let us do our part. Our nation needs us most. I am not saying that people should not be sent to jail but we should not be the ones to add more to their frustration. During these times of Ebola, we are in favor of the suspension of jury trial and opting for bench trial because we understand that the mode of transmission is in public gathering too,” he told the gathering.
He said the Judiciary must take steps to complement the national effort in stopping the spread of Ebola and one way that can be done is when the prison cells are decongested. The Chief Justice also spoke about timeliness of magistrates in their various courtrooms.
He warned the magistrates not to embarrass him because court inspectors will from time to time be sent into the various courtrooms and to find a magistrate absent without a tangible excuse will be tantamount to serious punishment that will not be based on friendship.
The Chief Justice said everyone must take Ebola seriously and lawyers are of no exception because if everyone gets overwhelmed there will be no State to govern and expressed that it is upon everyone to remind themselves that of the grave nature of the virus as each one takes every preventive measure.
He said the role of the lawyers is very difficult because even in a State of Emergency, courts must remain opened adding that suspension of court is not covered during such emergency and it is incumbent upon magistrates to go to work at all times including Saturdays.
He said judges are not non essential staff because it is only non essential staffs that are requested to stay at home due to the Ebola and the risk involved in crowdedness adding, “Our services are needed most and we must be there.”