For few months now, a teacher at the Charles D.B. King Elementary School in Monrovia, Mr. Augustus D. Jones, has been a regular visitor at the Capitol Building peacefully advocating for the setting up of a Claims Court.
Advocacy for the establishment of the court comes precisely against the backdrop of Article 34(e) of the Liberian Constitution that states that “The Legislature shall have the power to constitute courts inferior to the Supreme Court, including circuit courts, claims courts and such other courts with such prescribed jurisdictional powers as may be deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice throughout the Republic.”
Interestingly, however, whilst the legislature may have over the decades remained silent by not crafting out legislation to the effect, other courts have since come to bear in the land granting, in the words of Mr. Jones, the powerful to undermine the down-trodden especially where the latter has legitimate claims upon the former and thus contributing to the unnecessary charges at times levied against court officials.
Even within a democracy where its meaning is refined, its full conceptualization indicates the recognition of the rights and needs of historically discriminated and under-privileged group, including the poor, children, women and minorities.
Such been the case with many Liberians over the decades, with some taking the form of tort and leaving their hopes dashed on premises of “no justice been for the poor,” it can be emphatically stated that most legal-minded Liberians are now taking cognizance of the fact and those versed at constitutional law must rise to the challenge to ensure that claims courts are now established to save the day.
Questioning why has the claims courts not been established throughout the country when there are indeed matters appertaining thereto, one then wonders whether justice should continue to be for sale at the behest of the under-privileged and down-trodden, especially following many years of debacle in which usury became the order to date.
With Liberians given full protection by the Constitution, one needs to only assimilate Chapter III, Article 26, under Fundamental Rights. It states thus: “Where any person or any association alleges that any of the rights granted under this Constitution or any legislation or directives are constitutionally contravened, that person or association may invoke the privilege and benefit of court direction, order or writ, including a judgment of unconstitutionality; and anyone injured by an Act of the Government or any person acting under its authority, whether in property, contract, tort or otherwise, shall have the right to bring suit for appropriate redress. All such suits brought against the Government shall originate in a Claims Court; appeals from judgment of the Claims Court shall lie directly to the Supreme Court.
Beautifully-worded the provision may be, and notwithstanding the regulatory aspect that lie with governmental agencies evolving from legislations by the Legislature, it makes it extremely complicated to even assume past attempts thereat in establishing Claims Courts, thus denying citizens what is constitutionally appropriate.
Already with several recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), anticipated to be implemented by the Independent National Commission on Human Rights (INCHR) but is still on ice, reparation is partially considered to have taken on the functions of the Claims Court, unless with the former now rendered void for justifiable reasons.
Not necessarily requiring the payment of victims during the past debacle, lessons can still be borrowed from the Republic of Sierra Leone from which emanated from the grape vine war crime charges against former Liberia President Charles Ghankay Taylor who has been brought down with a guilty verdict.
Indeed with justifiable claims to be made by several Liberians, having been nearly-ostracized on account of rendering them impotent at making justifiable claims for inhumane treatment demonically meted against them, the 53rd Session of the Legislature would do itself well were they to put Liberia’s houses of laws in proper perspective, considering the country as an emerging democracy that must uphold the rule of law.
Whilst many lives have been lost in the process, waiting for reciprocal moments when the Lord will speak and all psychological devices used to ensure compliance will be dismantled, the advocacy by the school teacher is proper as the instrument is now under scrutiny by the House’s Committee on Judiciary.
Gone should be the days when laws were meant for particular groups, while others with impunity. Justice and Equality should be for all before the law.