Monrovia – A recent petition by a handful of disgruntled lawmakers (Senators Dan Morais, Peter Coleman and Jim Tornolah, and Representatives George Mulbah and Numene Bartekwah), calling for the impeachment of three Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia for judicial opinion which the Associate Justices recently rendered in the latest Code of Conduct case, is misguided, unthoughtful, violates Article 73 of the Liberian Constitution, and is reminiscent of political mercenerism – an attempt to arm-twist the judiciary in discharge of its duties.
Article 73 provides, “No judicial official shall be summoned, … or tried civilly … at the instance of any person or authority on account of judicial opinions rendered or expressed, judicial statements made and judicial acts done in the course of a trial in open court or in chambers, except for treason or other felonies, misdemeanor or breach of the peace. Statements made and acts done by such officials in the course of a judicial proceeding shall be privileged…”
The action by the five wayward legislators to even consider a petition for impeachment, or any attempt by the House of Representatives to countenance such petition, is a flagrant violation of Article 73 of the Liberian Constitution, is a breach of the doctrine of the separation of powers, and a threat to peace and democratic stability.
It is evident that the constitutional provision (Article 71) relied on by the five wayward legislators does not apply to judicial opinions rendered by justices or judges. Article 71 refers and applies to actions, behavior and conduct outside of and other than judicial opinions.
In the alternative, Article 71 may apply to judicial opinions, only if, and when the judicial opinion (s) is characterized by fraud or evidenced by conflict of interest - a scenario which is absent in the current case.
Even if the opinions of the three Associate Justices were influenced by their views of current political trends, there is no legal rule that forbids such ruling. Article 71 states, “The Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of subordinate courts of record… may be removed upon impeachment and conviction by the Legislature based on proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, inability to perform the functions of their office, or conviction in a court of law for treason, bribery or other infamous crimes.”
The three Associate Justices rendered their legal opinion based on their understanding and interpretation of the law, as they saw reasonable, fit and legally prudent – an exercise of constitutional authority within their purview. Without evidence of any misconduct on their part, or proof of external influence on the actions of the Associate Justices, there is no way that rendering of judicial opinion, as in the current case, would constitute “proved misconduct, gross breach of duty, or an inability to perform their office….”
Even if the Supreme Court earlier ruled in February 2017 upholding the constitutionality of the Code of Conduct in Mappy-Poison v, R. L. , it is still within its authority to overrule said opinion, or grant exceptions and exemptions where and when the Court sees fit, which is what the court did in the recent case involving Liberty Party and Harrison Karweah.
That is the law of the land, and we must all respect it and refrain from attempts aimed at cowing our Justices into submission through ruthless display of misguided legislative threats of impeachment.
Even though, with due deference to the Honorable Supreme Court, I personally disagree with the Court’s recent opinion interpreting the Code of Conduct ((both in its reasoning and conclusion of the law), I however vehemently reject the contumacious and merceneristic posture taken by the five wayward legislators calling for the impeachment of the three Associate Justices who voted in favor of the Opinion.
Disagreement with the Court’s interpretation of the law does not warrant impeachment because a Justice or a Judge’s interpretation of the law, albeit contentious or wrong, is NOT an impeachable offence.
Under such circumstances, the only option available to the Legislators is to enact laws that would effectively overturn the Court’s decision and interpretation of the law, and not threats of impeachment.