Judicial Branch

The Temple of Justice houses the Supreme Court and other subordinate courts.
Photo Credit: LiberiaInfo

Liberia’s Judiciary was established in the constitution of 1847 along with the other two branches of the government. The judicial branch is entrusted with interpreting and applying the laws of the nation through the Supreme Court and other subordinate courts that are established by the Legislature. These courts “apply both statutory and customary laws in accordance with the standards enacted by the legislature” (Constitution of Liberia, 1986).

Provisions for the Judiciary begin in Article 65 of the Liberian Constitution. This third branch of the government is headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He or she is assisted by four Associate Justices. The justices are appointed by the President, with the Senate’s approval.

The initial judiciary of Liberia was established in the 1824 Plan for the Civil Government. It included the Agent of the American Colonization Society (ACS) and two Justices of the Peace. After Liberia’s independence, the first Supreme Court in 1848 had three Justices, with Samuel Benedict as the nation’s first Chief Justice.

Before taking office, all justices and judges take an oath to fairly perform the functions of their offices and uphold the laws of the nation. The courts interpret the laws and pass judgement in specific cases. The Judiciary ensures that there is a balance of power by keeping checks on the laws that are passed by the legislature, as well as on acts of the executive.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the nation, hearing cases from lesser courts and from other agencies or authorities. However, the court is the original jurisdiction for cases involving ministers, ambassadors or the nation. The decisions of the court are final, and cases it has ruled on cannot be retried by any other courts. As stated in Article 66 of the Constitution:


The Supreme Court shall be final arbiter of constitutional issues and shall exercise final appellate jurisdiction in all cases whether emanating from courts of record, courts not of record, administrative agencies, autonomous agencies or any other authority, both as to law and fact except cases involving ambassadors, ministers, or cases in which a country is a party. In all such cases, the Supreme Court shall exercise original jurisdiction. The Legislature shall make no law nor create any exceptions as would deprive the Supreme Court of any of the powers granted herein.

-The Liberian Constitution, 1986.

The Chief Justice heads the Judicial Branch, and he/she is assisted by four Associate Justices. These justices are experienced and knowledgeable in the law, and in performing the duties of the Court. They are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. A Supreme Court Justice must be a Liberian citizen with good moral character and a counselor of the Supreme Court bar who has practiced law for at least five years. Supreme Court Justices and judges from
subordinate courts of record can work until age seventy, when they retire. A subordinate court judge must be a Liberian citizen of good moral character, who has practiced law for three or more years or is a counselor of the Supreme Court Bar. Justices and judges can be removed if they are unable to perform their duties or if convicted of a crime. The Supreme Court and some of the lesser courts are housed at the Temple of Justice on Capitol Hill, Monrovia.

Current Supreme Court Justices

Chief Justice Francis Korkpor
Associate Justice Sie-A-Nyene Youh
Associate Justice Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie
Associate Justice Joseph N. Nagbe
Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba

Supreme Court Justices of Liberia (2018)
L-R: Justices Yuoh, Ja’neh, Korkpor, Wolokolie and Banks
Photo Credit: Republic of Liberia, judiciary website

Subordinate Courts

Unlike the Supreme Court, the subordinate courts were created by statutes. These include circuit courts, criminal and assizes courts, debt courts, labor courts, tax courts, magistrate courts and other specialized courts. Each court functions within a jurisdiction, referring to its legal and operational limits. The lowest court is the Justice of the Peace.

Authority of Judges

In compliance with the principle of balance of power, the Judiciary interprets the laws that are created by the Legislature and implemented by the Executive. Judges apply the laws in specific situations, determining guilt or innocence. They are considerate of societal changes when judging cases, and also have the power to declare a law as unconstitutional.


Sources

Chief Justice, Associate Justice of Supreme Court of Liberia Commissioned; President Sirleaf Encourages Them to Accelerate Judicial Reforms. Executive Mansion website. Republic of Liberia.

Constitution of the Republic of Liberia. Liberia Legal Information Institute. 06 Jan. 1986.

Guannu, Joseph S. Liberian Civics. Monrovia: Herald Publishing, 2004. Print.

Liberia. Constitution, Government and Digest of the Laws of Liberia. Washington City: Printed by Way & Gideon, 1825.

Liberia: Supreme Court Justice Kabineh Ja’neh Impeached By Senate. Front Page Africa. 29 Mar. 2019.

Liebenow, J. Liberia : the Quest for Democracy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. Print.

The Judiciary. Republic of Liberia. http://judiciary.gov.lr/. Web.

The Liberian Constitutions. Onliberia. The Liberian Collections Project, Indiana University. 2004. Web.

The World Factbook: Liberia. Central Intelligence Agency. Web.