The Current State of Criminal Justice in Liberia

As noted in previous posts, NACDL’s team is currently in Liberia as a part of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC): Promoting Rule of Law & Governance in the Criminal Justice System in Liberia. The homepage of the project notes:

In its most recent report on human rights, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), found that Liberia’s criminal justice system was still facing serious challenges. Many of the actors in the justice system lack the requisite level of education, or there is not sufficient oversight in place by justice institutions to ensure that people have proper guidance in performing their responsibilities. This is certainly the case with regard to criminal defense services in Liberia. The vast majority of criminal defense lawyers in Liberia serve as public defenders, representing indigent clients accused of crimes. Presently, there are fewer than 30 public defenders in the entire country; most are young and lack experience. The criminal justice system in Liberia provides little institutional or material support for defense attorneys: there is almost no infrastructure in place; all operate without support staff and without central coordination; and there is no continuing legal education program provided. Indeed, it is a common occurrence in Liberia that persons detained for petty crimes are held in prison for longer than their possible sentence before they are given access to an attorney and a fair hearing.

The news articles below highlight some additional issues facing Liberia’s criminal justice system. They come from both the local Liberian press and international media outlets.

Front Page Africa: Weak Capacity to Investigate, UN Panel of Expert Report on Liberia

The United Nations Panel of Expert in its May 23 report to the UN Security council has stated that the Government of Liberia has weak capacity to conduct thorough investigations, especially into complicated cases outside Monrovia. The Panel in its report stated that the government’s capacity to prosecute criminal cases effectively is also weak, citing the current case against the mercenaries who killed the seven peacekeepers from the Niger in 2012. ( June 10, 2014)

Agence France-Presse: Liberia police dogged by graft despite decade of reforms

More than 200,000 people were killed in the 1989-2003 conflicts and thousands more fled the fighting, which left the economy in tatters and the country overrun with weapons. Ten years on, Liberia is one of the world’s most corrupt nations and the police force is seen as the institution most on the take, according to Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer. The graft survey found 77 percent of Liberians asked, had paid a bribe to law enforcement officers in the past year. (Frankie Taggart, May 23, 2014)

Liberian Observer: ‘Jury Services’ on Sale at Temple of Justice

Judge Nancy F. Sammy of Criminal Court ‘B’ has accused officers of the courts of demanding money from individuals just for those persons to serve on jury panels in the court. Judge Sammy made specific reference to Montserrado County. (Abendengo Davis, May 20, 2014)

The New Dawn: Rape Law congests prisons

The Public Defenders in Liberia say most of the defendants in prisons are pre-trial detainees due to a rape law that disallows preliminary examination. Liberia’s Public Defender Coordinator Cllr. James C.R. Flomo says when a suspect is accused of the rape crime, all a magistrate does is by 72 hours, grab the defendant, charge him and throw him into prison. (Winston W. Parley, May 16, 2014)

The New Dawn:Liberia: Judges Asked to Resign

In the wake of continuous demand from judges for adequate budgetary appropriation and improved salaries to ensure an independent Judiciary, the Liberia National Bar Association is asking judges to resign if their support is not sufficient. (Winston W. Parley, May 13, 2014)

The Huffington Post: Re-Designing Justice in Liberia

With the inspiration to find better ways to ensure justice and accountability for the population of West Point, our team at the Accountability Lab sat down for a series of discussions with Tweh using a design-thinking approach. We gathered all available research on justice and accountability issues in West Point, spent time in the community talking to as many citizens as we could, and then began to think about possible solutions to the problem. (Blair Glencorse, May 6, 2014)

IRIN News: Counterfeit drug war in Liberia

Liberia’s Ministry of Health is launching a major crackdown on counterfeit drug sellers throughout the country, but Liberians say they have no choice but to buy such drugs, given their low cost and availability even in rural areas. (January 29, 2014)

The New Dawn: Liberia: Weak Justice System Threatens Development

Liberia’s Acting Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor has warned that failure to improve on the justice system here may pose threat to the development of the country….Justice Korkpor said it is important that actors within the administration of justice, including the police and other security agencies, prosecutors, members of the trial bar, judges, the Legislature, and Penal Institutions, among others, form partnership to reforming the justice system. (Winston W. Parley, March 27, 2013)

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June 19, 2014 · 11:42 AM

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