By Grace Q. Bryant
Judge Ousman Feika is calling on the Judiciary to make an upward adjustment in the number of trial days for circuit courts.
Delivering the judge’s message yesterday, Criminal Court ’D’ Judge Feika said that under Section 3.8(2) of the Judiciary Law of Liberia, “There are 42 days allotted for jury session within which a case must be heard and disposed of unless approved authorization is granted by the Chief Justice to allow an ongoing trial to continue for extra days after the completion of the 42 days or a jury was already ongoing prior to the conclusion of the 42 days for which said trial will continue until a verdict is returned.”
Section 3.8(2) of the Judiciary Law of Liberia on duration further states that, “Ten days before the opening of each quarterly session, there shall be a pre-trial chamber session to be held by the circuit judge assigned to sit during the quarterly sessions which shall immediately be followed by a trial session beginning with the opening of each quarterly session and continuing for forty-two consecutive days not including Sundays and legal holidays unless sooner terminated because all business before the court is disposed of before the expiration of that period.”
At the Opening of the 1st Judicial Circuit, Criminal Assizes ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C’ and ‘D’, the judge added that Immediately following the close of the trial session, there shall be a 10-day closing chamber session to be held by the judge assigned to sit for the quarterly session and any judge concurrently assigned to the circuit.
“In our mind, during trial technicalities implored by lawyers, most of the 42 days allotted for jury session are already exhausted before the end of the court’s term, thus impeding the speedy trial requirement as envisaged under Article 21(h) of the Constitution of Liberia,” he reminded.
Article 21(h) of the Constitution of Liberia also says, “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or infamous crime except in cases of impeachment, cases arising in the Armed Forces and petty offenses, unless upon indictment by Grand Jury; and in all such cases, the accused shall have the right to a speedy, public and impartial trial by a jury of the vicinity, unless such person shall, with appropriate understanding, expressly waive the right to a jury trial.”
He then recommended that the jury session for each court term be increased to five months for circuit courts, beginning February and end in June for the first term while the second term is suggested to run from July to November each year.
“To enhanced the speedy trial requirement as envisaged under the Liberian Constitution and at the same time provides judges adequate time to dispose of pre-trial technicalities and the plethora of motion that attend same and allow the court to hear a lot more cases within a court’s term,” he further proposed.
He maintained that to afford judges some rest time, the months of December and January should be allotted to them during which time they will look after their health, refresh themselves and at the same time attend to pressing family issues, adding that judges have families too.
Meanwhile, Judge Feika alarmed that there is a serious concern among judges resulting from callous and life-threatening attacks on their persons, families and homes.
“While we do not know the motives behind the attacks on judges, it is now imperative that judges be provided armed security guards to provide protection for judges at all times,” he revealed.
He further emphasized that there is no state security protection for judges and their families notwithstanding the very serious role judges’ play in the society; he said as a result, judges and their families are vulnerable to attacks from unscrupulous individuals in the society.
“This needs to stop! It is therefore our expectation that the relevant authorities will take the appropriate steps to initiate or re-initiate programs for the protection of judges and their families across the country,” he expressed.
However, the public defender further maintained that they have noticed throughout the country that the prisons are overcrowded especially from pre- trial detention.
He maintained that they will work with the judiciary in this term of court and filed appropriate motions as it relates to release delivery and other motion.
“We will continue to knock your chambers doors to remind you of the motion that we will file in this term of court because when we look at the Monrovia Central Prison which was built for 300 persons; as we speak, according to the latest statistics, we have is 1,600 persons,” he explained.
The LNBA Vice president however cautioned all lawyers practicing before the court to respect the courts because they have duty by law to do that.