Monrovia, Liberia - President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has appealed to the honorable Justices of the Supreme Court Bench and the Minister of Justice to intensify efforts and accelerate reforms in the judicial system, including the reconsideration of government’s request for a fast-track court to handle the large number of corruption cases.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf made the statement at the commissioning ceremony of the new Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia, His Honor Francis Korkpor, Sr., and Associate Justice Sie-A- Nyene Youh in the C. Cecil Dennis Jr. Auditorium at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday, April 29.
The Liberian leader applauded the Judiciary for the progress they’ve made so far, despite challenges and constraints, resource scarcity, capacity weaknesses and cultural proclivity, but said that despite these limitations, more needs to be done and urgently.
The President stated that since her administration, the working conditions in the Judiciary have improved considerably in terms of compensation, facilities and logistics. She said Liberians need returns on that investment to be manifested in equal and speedy access to justice for all. “We need the justice system to speedily free the innocent and convict the criminal. We need the justice system to symbolize and embody those things that are honorable, just, and fair. We need these from you, members of the Judiciary, because you are the ultimate guardians of the Constitution – that essential tool for resolution of disputes in our society, peacefully,” the Liberian leader reminded the Judiciary.
Speaking further, President Sirleaf said the public needs to be informed about the workings of the courts, and that the courts need to enjoy the highest confidence of society and of litigants, whether in civil or criminal matters. She added that there needs to be timely trials of those accused of violating the public trust.
Citing the recent assessment coming out of the 2012 United States Human Rights Report, which tied serious human rights abuses to the lack of justice, including judicial inefficiency and corruption, lengthy pretrial detention, denial of due process, among others, President Sirleaf described the assessment as another wake- up call to all to introspect and address those longstanding shortcomings. “I urge you to be less lenient and more courageous. I too must do the same, for at the end of the day, I may take the blame, but the legacy so often referred to belongs not only to me, but to you,” she cautioned, as she urged them to implement whatever appropriate and relevant measures needed to improve the country’s record of access to justice.
President Sirleaf thanked Chief Justice Korkpor and Associate Justice Youh for accepting the responsibility.
Liberia’s new Chief Justice, His Honor Francis Korkpor, responding also on behalf of his colleague, commended the Liberian leader for the confidence reposed in them, and promised to justify that confidence. By his appointment, he had only become the first amongst equals of those who hold, in their hands, the organic law of the land – the Constitution.
“I am honored to serve alongside men and women who are committed to the Oath of our respective offices: to protect and uphold the Constitution, defend it and fairly interpret it at all times in deciding cases involving the rights of all party litigants, irrespective of ethnic background, religion, gender, political affiliation or nationality.” He reiterated that as the voice and conscience of the people, they cannot afford to sway and falter, and added, “We must measure up.”
Chief Justice Korkpor pointed out that as the Judiciary is the cornerstone of our system of government, and a safeguard of freedom and rights of the people and the government under the rule of law, it is a prime national priority sector. As such, it would depend on the Legislative and Executive Branches of Government for appropriate budgetary support to carry out the necessary reform program.
The Chief Justice said that one of his major challenges is the restoration of public confidence in the Judiciary. “We pledge to work to reverse this situation,” he said, stressing, “We will undertake reforms to address the problem of delays and antiquated methods of doing things. We will amend our rules to provide for civil society representation on the Judicial Inquiry Commission as well as the Grievance and Ethics Committee. We will form partnership with other actors of the justice sector in addressing common problems.”
He promised to provide a robust leadership of a Judiciary that is willing to dialogue and embrace changes, but on their own terms and conditions in keeping with the Judiciary’s strategic plan of action.
Chief Justice Korkpor promised not to tolerate judicial malpractices by judges and ethical transgression of lawyers, pointing out that his goal is to build a credible and independent Judiciary, a place of redress where everyone – citizen, foreign nationals, businessmen or businesswoman, the poor, the rich, the ruling political party, the opposition political parties, Christians, Muslims, non-believers and all who may be aggrieved and distressed – can truly find justice.
His Honor Korkpor replaces former Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis who resigned in September 2012 following his (Lewis) request for early retirement due to ill health. The new Chief Justice of the Republic of Liberia had served as Chief Justice Ad Interim until his confirmation by the Liberian Senate to the position. He was the most Senior Associate Justice on the Supreme Court Bench; was appointed during the period of the Liberia National Transitional Government in 2003, and reappointed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006. He is a graduate of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law of the University of Liberia, and a trial lawyer.
Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Youh replaces former Associate Justice Gladys Johnson who retired at age 70 in 2011. Justice Youh previously was a member of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia. She is the third female appointed to the Supreme Court Bench by President Sirleaf.
With their commissioning, the Supreme Court has its full Bench of five, with the other members being Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh, Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie, and Associate Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III.