By Grace Q. Bryant
The Assigned Judge of Criminal Court ‘B’ in Montserrado County, Nelson B. Chineh, has disclosed that the public confidence in the Judiciary has dwindled, due to all forms of judicial manipulations, interference, and corruption.
Speaking at the opening of the Criminal A, B, C & D, Judge Chineh questioned, “How can we rebrand the image of the Judiciary without upholding the integrity of the Judiciary?”
According to him, over the years, the integrity of the Judiciary has been ruined and rebranding the image of the Judiciary requires the collective efforts of all judicial actors, to include judges, prosecuting, defense, and private lawyers, clerical staff, ministerial officers, the press, and members of the general public, who serve as jurors.
“The manner and form in which each of these justice actors act in discharging their respective task will impact positively or negatively, the public perception of the court system in Liberia,” he noted.
He expressed that judges, who are expected to be men and women of integrity as heads of the courts, must learn to take full responsibility of the operation of the court, adding that the judicial canon speaks to who a judge is.
“A Judge must be punctual in attending court; he must at all times exhibit the sense of neutrality. As Judges presiding over the criminal assizes, it is expected of us to possess some basic qualities, to include, but not limited to, being knowledgeable in the law controlling criminal prosecution,” he explained.
He emphasized that judges must always be cognizant of the fact that court staff and lawyers look up to them for leadership and guidance. A Judge must coordinate activities between the various judicial actors.
“Most importantly, a Judge must also refrain from passing judgment without Due Process. Due Process is that principle of law that requires an accused to be accorded an opportunity to be heard prior to being condemned,” he added.
He furthered that the 1986 Constitution of Liberia guarantees this right to all persons, regardless of their sex, color, or status. Due Process protects the individual’s interest and, at the same time, improves the quality of the administration of justice.
“Because laws are dynamic and evolving, all judges in the Liberian Judiciary must be afforded the opportunity for continuous judicial education,” he noted.
According to him, in recent past, Liberian Judges were privileged to attend quarterly Judges’ trainings. In the absence of external training, a periodic peers review form of training is necessary, most especially so for our newly appointed judges.
“Let us remember that the court is the last place of hope for mankind on earth, and as such, should be kept sacred. Judges at all times must distinguish themselves as neutral persons by the manner and form in which they conduct judicial businesses,” he said.
He added, “They must ensure that their judgments are fair and transparent. This will bring a positive change to the manner and form in which businesses are conducted in court, and by this, the public perception of the Judiciary will begin to shift positively. This is a way of rebranding the image of the Judiciary.
While the Prosecuting Attorney is a direct representative of the State party, the Defense Attorney or Public Defender is the legal representative of the criminal defendant before court. A lawyer is either an advisor or an advocate for a party litigant,” he noted.
He further explained that a lawyer should avoid stirring up litigation. Stirring up litigation is unethical and should not be encouraged.
“In our adversarial system of jurisprudence, a party litigant who is represented by a lawyer, but whose lawyer is either incompetent, or is competent but negligent in his or her representation of such party litigant, cannot be assured of a fair trial, as the court will not do for a party what that party ought to do for him/herself. Both sides in every case need adequate and efficient representation,” he said.
He maintained that the under-representation of a party before court works against the image of the court, stating, “Therefore, during this term, we the Judges assigned to preside over the First Judicial Circuit have deliberated and resolved that whenever a party is noted to be under-represented, we will continue the proceeding to a later date to afford that party an opportunity to procure the services of additional counsel.
Without the assistance of a competent and committed counsel, a party litigant faces the danger of injustice. The Oath that we took as lawyers requires of us to be gentle and honest,” Judge Chineh added.