The resident judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Margibi County Mardea Tarr Chenoweth has alarmed that corruption in the security sector remains endemic particular among the police.
Judge Chenoweth delivering her formal charge during souvenir program for the formal opening of May Term A.D. 2019 of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Kakata on Monday, May 13, 2019, said the most recent survey conducted among Liberians found that trust in the police was extremely low.
According to her, only 2% of Liberians say that the police were not corrupt and this she said compares to 44% who believe that all police are corrupt and 42% don’t trust the police at all.
She indicated that Police officers reportedly routinely extort money from citizens at all stages of a case, from registering citizens’ complaints, to requiring money to go to a crime scene to obtaining release from detention.
Judge Chenoweth asserted that accused persons have also charged the police of manipulating cases to change civil matters into criminal cases and that since the departure of UNMIL; people are now kept at some police detention cells beyond the Constitutional 48 hour period with no justification.
She pointed acknowledged that in the criminal justice system, the police are the frontline force in the fight against crimes, the protection of life and property, and in the maintenance of the rule of law.
The Judge intoned that to provide an effective, efficient and professional police service that is community-based and adheres to the principles of democratic policing, the rights of citizens must be respected at all times.
On the other hand, the Judge further argued that according to survey some 25% of Liberians don’t trust the Courts, and 23% believe that all the judges are corrupt.
The 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge explained that only 3% feel judges aren’t corrupt adding, ‘these widely different levels of trust toward the Country justice sector institutions will bear heavily on the sustenance of democracy in our Country’.
She disclosed that perceptions of trust of the security and justice sectors are especially important since experience shows that when the public does not have confidence in the institutions whose mandate is to protect citizens, then violence is more likely, as individuals feel they need to take the law into their own hands.
She warned that the Court as part of the criminal justice system needs to do more to build people’s confidence in order for them to go to the Court and get redress whenever they are aggrieved.
“In the criminal justice system, lawyers, including persecution and defense counsels are part of the Court. For that matter, we all as justice sector workers must be robust and dedicated to delivering speedy justice without sale and undue bottlenecks, a sector that will be free from negative public perception” she said.
Her Honor Mardea Tarr Chenoweth cautioned that in these sense lawyers ought to be careful with what they tell their clients about the Court.
She alleged that lawyers keep requesting unnecessary money in the name of the Court while they create the impression that cases are only won on the basis of pecuniary benefits.
The Judge expressed that this discourages the ordinary poor people from seeking justice in the Court and turn to unconventional means of seeking justice along with all its attendant consequences for society. Additionally, Judge Chenoweth averred that the way lawyers portray the Court to the public is how the public will perceive it.
Commenting on the Magistrates, she mentioned that they are the face of the Court system and they have to break from the tradition of sending people to prison for every crime, noting ‘except for felonious crimes you can give people what we usually call 13.5 so that their relatives or some prominent people in the Community can sign for them and return them whenever the case is set’.
She said that does not necessarily call for a fee and it is intended to decongest the prison and refrain from punishing people for crimes they are not yet guilty of so as to save the Court from negative public perception.
Madam Chenoweth maintained that it is so sad to say that some magistrates are still proceeding arbitrarily, which action prevents people from using the rule of law to address legal disputes thereby promising not to relent in punishing anyone caught in the illegal act of selling justice.
She used the opportunity to encourage the County Attorney to take advantage of plea bargaining which according to her is another way of decongesting the prison. She narrated that for the vast majority of cases, plea bargaining also known as negotiating a settlement or coping out is a very significant step in the criminal justice process which allows for very few cases to go to trial.
The Liberian legal practitioner established that instead, a negotiated guilty plea arrived at through the interactions of persecutors, defense lawyers and judges; something she noted determines what will happen to most defendants. She urged the defense counsel to take advantage of the provision of jail delivery, doing so in the context of the law.
Judge Chenoweth averred that a robust and effective defense is essential in ensuring due process while effective defense counsels assist the court in avoiding mistakes such as lengthy detentions without trial, or wrongful convictions and overly harsh sentences.
She noted that an effective criminal defense is not only critical in ensuring due process, but also key in building the trust of the public in the Country’s justice system.
“As I have always said, we have a single purpose and let all of us as justice actors work together to attain that purpose, and that is, building a strong court system that our people can run to with their disputes and get redress” she recounted.