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Supreme interference

Supreme Court of Liberia  By Tewroh-Wehtoe Sungbeh


The story is all too familiar.

A young Liberian, Edward Gberi, who was trying to earn an honest living as store help was choked to death in 1978, by his Lebanese employer for allegedly chewing a candy.

The Liberian Supreme Court under Chief Justice James A. A. Pierre immediately took on the case; and without any credible hearings acquitted the Lebanese merchant.

The incident in question, which was interpreted by Liberians as siding unfairly with the wealthy Lebanese merchant, sparked protest rallies on the campus of the University of Liberia, and other areas in the city of Monrovia.

The Gberi incident, inhumane as it was is considered by some as the forerunner to the 1979 rice riot, which also exposed Liberians to injustice, presidential overreach and human rights violations.

Those incidents and other incidents later led to the fatal overthrow of President William R. Tolbert, and the public execution of many in his cabinet.

Edward Gberi has been dead over three decades. One would think the Liberian government, in 2013, would learn from the tragedies that sparked the riots, protest rallies and the fatalities of decades ago.

Shockingly, Liberians are again living 1978, as the current Liberian Supreme Court chose to side with the rude and overbearing Mary Broh, the former interim Mayor of Monrovia who was finally relieved of her duties by President Sirleaf for interfering with the orders of the often confused and misnamed Legislative branch.

What sparked the Legislator’s anger and prison time for Montserrado County Superintendent Grace Kpann was the February 22 incident, when Mary Broh chose to obstruct the imprisonment of the disgraced Ms. Kpann, who was alleged to have embezzled $50,775.00 of her county’s development funds.

Even though the Liberian legislature clearly went overboard as it often does when it attempted to play cop, judge and jailer in this case and other cases, the Liberian Supreme Court acted too quickly and exposed itself to charges of protecting a presidential friend, Mary Broh.

It is ridiculous when the branches of government are either ignorant of their respective roles in government, or just don’t care to protect, defend and enhance the institutions they serve in this post-war era of nation building.

If the Supreme Court of Liberia wants to be an activist court whose decisions are based not solely on the interpretation of the laws of Liberia, then the court has to come forward and act in all cases in that manner and not cherry pick cases based on presidential friendship and patronage.

As a non-lawyer, I am led to believe that the Supreme Court of Liberia is supposed to hear a case after it is litigated in a lower court, and after the losing side files a petition to re-litigate the case in the Supreme Court, especially if the individual is unhappy with the previous verdict.

What the current Supreme Court of Liberia did in this case is the hijacking of the judicial system already seen by most Liberians as not neutral and lacking independence.

The action of the Supreme Court reminds me of what a “fly-by-night” apprentice Justice of the Peace or Magistrate Court would have done to pay back the generosity done to that particular “judge” by a patron.  In this case, the Liberian Supreme Court puts its credibility on the line by siding with the two amigos, the powerful President Sirleaf and Mary Broh.

The question now is why didn’t the Supreme Court of Liberia intervened when President Sirleaf, whom obviously appears to be overwhelmed by the office and the rampant corruption that plagued her administration, hurriedly reappointed Mary Broh to another position after she supposedly resigned under pressure from her last job as Mayor?

The current Supreme Court of Liberia, as the arbiter of justice cannot continue to disappoint Liberians, as their predecessors did many years ago.

It is to their credit and the nation’s gain when the justices interpret the law with fairness, competence, independence and neutrality.

Justice dispensed with fairness can inject confidence and trust in the system, because the Liberian people will support  institution such as the Supreme Court of Liberia that protects their rights, their aspirations and safety.

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