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Friday, June 14, 2024

LNBA CRITICIZES JUDICIARY BUDGET ALLOCATION, CLAIMS JUDICIARY TREATED AS ORDINARY AGENCY

Date:

MONROVIA, LIBERIA – Cllr. Sylvester D. Rennie, National President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), expressed profound disappointment and surprise over the budgetary allocation for the Judiciary Branch by the Government of Liberia during a conference held on June 10, 2024. The LNBA highlighted that the Judiciary has been treated like an ordinary government agency, which has severely undermined its functionality and effectiveness.

For the fiscal year 2024, the national budget totals $738,859,837, but only $17,000,000 has been allotted to the Judiciary. This allocation is grossly insufficient to address critical needs, such as the construction of judicial complexes in several counties. The LNBA emphasized that a robust judiciary is essential to uphold the Rule of Law, a key pillar under the current government’s “ARREST Agenda.” The failure to properly fund the Judiciary Branch undermines access to justice and the overall legal framework of the country.

The LNBA pointed out that the inadequate budget has hampered efforts to provide access to justice, particularly through the Public Defense Program, which supports indigent clients. Public defenders have lacked the necessary incentives and resources for years, and an increased budget is essential to properly support these legal professionals. This shortfall not only affects the defenders but also the clients who rely on their services for fair representation in court.

Additionally, the LNBA referenced Article 72(a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, which protects the salaries, allowances, and benefits of Justices and Judges from being diminished, though they can be increased. Past government harmonization schemes negatively impacted these compensations, and the current administration has yet to correct these issues. The reduction in salaries and benefits has demoralized the judiciary and impaired its ability to function optimally.

Most magisterial courts in Liberia are overseen by non-lawyers, and without proper incentives, it is challenging to attract qualified lawyers to these positions. This lack of qualified personnel compromises the quality of justice dispensed at the magisterial level. Similarly, many specialized courts, such as Debt, Probate, Tax, and Sexual Offenses Courts, are understaffed due to budget constraints, leading to overcrowded dockets in Circuit Courts. Circuit Judges are forced to assume jurisdiction over these various courts, stretching their capacities thin and delaying justice.

The LNBA also noted the demoralization of State Prosecutors due to inadequate salaries, lack of vehicles, and insufficient prosecution fees. This has undermined the efficiency of the prosecution and the overall justice sector. Prosecutors, who play a critical role in upholding the law and ensuring justice, are unable to perform their duties effectively under these conditions. The lack of resources and support has dampened their morale and impeded their work.

Moreover, the LNBA is troubled by President Joseph Nyumah Boakai, Sr.’s failure to appoint a new Associate Justice of the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Joseph N. Nagbe, Sr. Filling this vacancy is crucial for the full constitution of the Judiciary. The absence of a full bench hinders the Supreme Court’s ability to hear and decide cases efficiently, further straining the judicial system.

The Bar argued that the judiciary’s capacity to provide justice is also hindered by the lack of adequate infrastructure. Many courts around the country operate in dilapidated buildings, which are not conducive to the proper administration of justice. There is an urgent need for the construction of new judicial complexes and the renovation of existing ones to ensure that the judiciary can function effectively.

In addition to infrastructure, the LNBA highlighted the need for technological advancements within the judiciary. Many courts still rely on outdated methods of record-keeping and communication, which slows down the judicial process. Investing in modern technology is essential for improving efficiency and transparency in the judiciary.

The Bar also called attention to the need for continuous training and professional development for judicial personnel. Judges, magistrates, and court staff require ongoing education to stay updated with legal developments and improve their skills. Adequate funding is necessary to support these training programs, which are vital for maintaining a high standard of justice.

Finally, the LNBA stressed that the judiciary must be seen as an equal and independent branch of government. The significant disparity in budget allocations between the Judiciary and the other branches of government undermines this principle. The Bar calls on the Executive and Legislative branches to provide a more realistic and adequate budget for the Judiciary in FY-2024. Ensuring that all three branches of government are properly funded and coordinated is mandated by Article 3 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia. A well-funded judiciary is essential for maintaining the rule of law, delivering justice, and ensuring the smooth operation of the country’s legal system.

The LNBA’s address serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of adequately funding the judiciary to ensure justice and the rule of law are upheld in Liberia. The government must take immediate steps to rectify the budgetary imbalances and support the judiciary’s essential functions.

This version provides clearer separation between different issues raised by the LNBA, improving readability and emphasizing the key points of concern.

Socrates Smythe Saywon
Socrates Smythe Saywon is a Liberian journalist. You can contact me at 0777425285 or 0886946925, or reach out via email at saywonsocrates@smartnewsliberia.com or saywonsocrates3@gmail.com.

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