By C. Winnie Saywah-Jimmy
The Supreme Court of Liberia has opened for its March term of court with recognition of what the Korkpor-bench termed an alarming irregularity of the abuse of the freedom of speech and the press that is being enjoyed by journalists in the country.
In his opening address, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor said while that branch of government is making effort to dispense justice in the country, a handful of the public and some members of the media are bent on discrediting their efforts because whenever their preferred party loses and or they are dissatisfied with the ruling of the case, they spread falsehood about the judiciary.
He said they issue threats and look for means to discredit judges; in court proceedings it is either all or nothing; that is one side wins and the other side loses unless both sides settle their disagreement before the final judgment is rendered into the matter.
Chief Justice Korkpor said it is obvious that losers in proceedings may not be happy but their disagreement does not give them the right to insult, vilify or threaten the judge who made the decision under the guides of freedom of speech and of the press.
He quoted Chapter 3 Article 15 (a),(e) of the Liberian Constitution as stating that the right to freedom of speech and of the press is an ascribed right that carries responsibility even though such right cannot be enjoined by government but may only be limited by judicial actions in proceedings grounded in defamation, etc.
The Chief Justice said the phrase being ‘responsible for the abuse thereof’ as contained in Article 15 (e) surmises that there are certain aspects of those rights that are prohibited by law and while recognizing that the liberty of the press and free expression of citizens are essential to democratic society, the framers of the Constitution provided that freedom may be limited.
He said the court has in recent years observed the alarming irregularity and blurring of the lines between the right to freedom of speech and of the press and the abuse of that right and this is constantly done through outright falsehood and invectives spotted out by the print and electronic media institutions.
Chief Justice Korkpor said the Judiciary welcomes criticism because it is not only permissible but it is desirable under any constitutional government like the Liberian government and that judges and lawyers are not any less immuned to public criticism than ordinary citizens or any other member of government.
He said, “In fact, as I have indicated, where it is established that a judge or judicial member is involved in any act of impropriety, appropriate penalty be administered as it was done in the past but what cannot be accepted are outright lies intended to cast expressions on and erode public confidence on the judiciary and judicial officers.”
Chief Justice Korkpor said, “This has to stop” because the law gives the court the right to punish for any act which offends its dignity and indeed other courts in other judiciary have similar authority. Let this be a notice to all.”
Chief Justice Korkpor added,” Look to the judiciary for final redress and it is good because it is better to talk than to fight and that means that the judiciary should at all times strive to make ways for the public to be heard so that they are comfortable that their voices are guaranteed.”