Maryland County — The 4th Judicial Circuit court in Harper, Electoral District One, Maryland County, has opened for the August Term of Court with six criminal cases and five civil cases on its docket.
They include two statutory rape cases, aggravated assault, one murder case that is on motion for appeal, theft of property, misapplication of entrusted property, criminal conspiracy, forgery, violation of PPCC procedures and public financial management law of 2009, economic sabotage, bribery, unlawful rewarding of public service and criminal conspiracy, respectively.
During the opening of the August Term on Monday, August 14, Resident Circuit Court Judge Nelson T. Tokpa, said that the judiciary only has power to render judgment, so it needs to be protected from outside influence by providing safeguard to its independence.
He reminds that it is the constitutional duty of the court to declare acts that are contrary to the Constitution or are illegal.
“The Constitution guarantees judicial protection, granting its power to say no to the Executive when they overstep the limits of their constitutional power; in this way, the Constitution tries to insulate judges and magistrates from public pressures that will affect elected officials of the government”, Judge Tokpa explains.
He says the Constitution of Liberia is independent or impartial, as it’s not intended to benefit only judges and magistrates, but to promote rule of law, equality before the law and ensure justice in every case throughout the Republic.
He says when speaking of judicial independence, it certainly does not mean there is lack of accountability to laws written and enacted by the Legislature, but that judges and magistrates must follow the Constitution in rendering judgment to set precedents that are not based on their own political interest.
“We are expected to approach every case with an open mind and render unbiased judgment”, he underscores, and adds, “We must be impartial and nonpartisan at all times, especially during these critical periods of our national elections.”
According to the judge, judicial independence consists of intellectual honesty and dedication to the enforcement of rule of law regardless of popular sentiment, personal interest, and the ability to render timely decisions in the absence of political pressure and without fear or favor, reminding that it is often said that justice delayed, is justice denied.
Judge Tokpa points out that judicial independence should be guaranteed to all trial judges and magistrates in accordance with the Constitution because more trial judges and magistrates are not insulated from Legislative and Executive pressures in the county.
He notes that over the years especially, during critical electoral periods, party litigants instead of taking their cases to the Supreme Court on an appeal basis or by other legal means available for proper legal redress, are in the constant habit of taking their cases to lawmakers from the county and the Executive to influence and overturn judgment or decision when they are adjudged liable or convicted by the court, terming such acts as a form of threat to judicial independence under the Constitution.
The judge alleges that trial judges and magistrates often receive threats of violence from party litigants, their family members, or citizens for judicial actions taken by courts in the county.
He discloses that in 2022 and during the February Term of Court this year, one Tigbaway of Harper City constantly threatened to kill him alone with other court workers, and two defendants, who were charged with murder and criminal conspiracy, for granting them bill while the matter was pending before the court for trial.
Judge Tokpa adds that the defendant involved in such act is currently serving sentence at the River Gee County prison on account of his threatening remarks.
The court also reveals that another threat observed is when party litigants take their cases to the public space via radio talk show and in print media against magistrates or judges for judgments handed down.