…. As Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, a well-known human rights lawyer turned politician, believes that the case against Scott is “politically motivated” and that the government was politicizing the case for nothing.
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has, in response to the recent incarceration of former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott, claimed that the country’s justice system is reverting to ‘its dark past of a troubled era.’
Sirleaf, who was imprisoned in the 1980s for ‘political reasons’, believes that Scott, a revered stateswoman who the police have charged along with three other members of her family for murder, is facing politically motivated prosecutions.
The former President’s statement came as she was expressing profound sadness and disappointment in the Liberian justice system, a day after the Monrovia City Court denied Scott and her co-accused request for bail on June 23.
“It was a sad day as the Liberian justice system reverted to the bad ways of the past, which I have personally experienced,” Sirleaf said in a tweet on June 24, which has garnered more than 8,000 views.
Stipendiary Magistrate Ben Barco, while denying Scott and the others accused bail application, ruled that the Monrovia City Court lacks “jurisdiction over” murder cases; as such, the Court was denying the bail request and transferring the case to Criminal Court ‘A’ which has jurisdiction.
The Monrovia City Court serves as a trial court — meaning that it is the first level of judicial authority where cases are initially heard and decided based on the merits of the case and applicable laws.
“Consistent with Chapter 7, Section 7.3 of the New Judiciary Law, as amended, the jurisdiction of Magistrates Courts in criminal proceedings only extends to first, second, and third-degree misdemeanors and not to felonious offenses,” Barco said.
Cllr. Amara Sheriff, who is one of the lawyers representing Scott and the other accused, had argued that his clients ought to be granted bail and not subjected to the punishment of incarceration before a judicial determination of alleged wrongdoing.
Sheriff noted that the Constitution of Liberia, particularly Article 21 (d) (ii) which states that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor excessive punishment inflicted,” backs his claim.
In this case, Sheriff noted that the defendants have been cooperating with the Police investigation, have made no attempt to leave the country, and “are in the same position to continue to present themselves to the Court for the purpose of these proceedings whenever needed.”
“By these, and in the contemplation, effect, impact, spirit, and intent of the law, our clients are entitled to bail, a fundamental right guaranteed by the organic law of the Land, the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, espoused in Article 21 (d) (i).”
“All accused persons shall be bailable upon their personal recognizance or by sufficient sureties, depending upon the gravity of the charge, unless charged for capital offenses or grave offenses as defined by law.”
However, Barco disagreed and insisted that the Monrovia City Court does not have the authority to release suspects charged with murder, a capital offense.
He added that the only action the court can take in a matter brought “before it over which another court has original jurisdiction is to conduct,” is to conduct a preliminary hearing if requested by the “defendants upon their appearance in court.”
“This court has no trial jurisdiction over the crime of murder with which the defendants are charged. “All courts are required to take cognizance of their jurisdiction, especially subject matter jurisdiction, as the same is imposed by law and nothing else.”
“Where the defendants waive their rights to said hearing by failing to request the same, the next available option to the court is to have the matter venue before the forum having trial jurisdiction over the offense or offenses charged,” Barco said.
The Court ruling which is in favor of the prosecution comes after Adolphus Karnuah, who is a prosecution lawyer, argued that since the defendants are charged with the crime of murder, “they cannot be released on bail,” because people accused of capital offenses are not entitled to bail under Liberian laws.
“This constitutional provision made it clear for you to deny, dismiss a bail bond by a defendant, which according to the penal code is a capital offense,” Karmuah argued. “The crime of murder is defined by law as a capital offense, and, as such, for you to grant a bail bond is in total violation.”
The Barco ruling however comes amidst increasing concern among legal experts and others that the Monrovia City Court’s refusal to grant bail to Scott and three other non-flight-risk family members may be motivated by political reasons.
Scott and her co-accused are being accused of murdering Charloe Musu, who happens to be the niece of the former Chief Justice. The other charges are criminal conspiracy and false statements to law enforcement officers.
The former Chief Justice and her co-accused have however denied ever committing such a crime and consistently claimed that their niece was killed by an unknown assailant (s).
The deceased was a graduating Senior at Starz University. She met her untimely death during the night hours of February 23 when “the home of Scott came under an alleged attack.” That night was the third incident.
The previous two, according to Scott, were reported to the police and the Ministry of Justice — with the former admitting in a statement on Feb. 26 that after receiving reports of the first two attacks, they “started patrolling the area.” The police at that time did not specify what it meant by “patrolling the area” and never posted an officer at Scott’s residence.
However, police in its writ of arrest for Scott and her family claimed that upon investigation, it was established the narrative was “false and misleading and done with the intent and purpose to take away the life of another individual.”
But Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, a well-known human rights lawyer turned politician, who is one of the many legal experts who believe that the case against Scott is “politically motivated”, claimed that the government is politicizing the case for nothing.
Gongloe criticizes the prolonged investigation, suggesting that the government lacks a solid case and argues that the proceedings seem to be a targeted persecution of the Musu family, who are currently mourning the loss of their daughter.
“The whole thing looks political. I’ve never seen a case in any country where a death occurred, an autopsy was conducted, and the body was not delivered to the family,” Gongloe said. “It takes an unusually long time to bring charges.”
Everything seems political, and I can confidently say, as a lawyer, that using a dead body as evidence in court is unprecedented. Autopsy reports, not the physical body, are typically used as evidence. What kind of wickedness is this?”
However, the Civil Society Council of Liberia believes the Ministry of Justice needs to outsource its prosecutorial responsibilities to independent prosecutors in the ongoing case as the ministry has a history of losing major cases.
The Council noted that over a prolonged period, they had observed a distressing pattern where cases of equal importance are met with indifference by the government, consequently undermining the pursuit of justice —citing the landmark case involving the importation of drugs valued at US$100 million —which the government lost.
“This case has raised widespread concerns, both domestically and internationally. State lawyers were heavily criticized for the unfavorable outcome, and considering recent experience, we called on the Government to engage independent prosecutors to handle the unfortunate death of Charlotte Musu at the residence of former Chief Justice Gloria Musu Scott in Brewerville.
“While we appreciate the services provided by state lawyers, we believe professional assistance is necessary to handle cases of this magnitude,” the Council said in a release. “The loss of a life should demand the attention of all, and a free, fair, and transparent adjudication of this matter is crucial for a vibrant rule of law and judicial system in Liberia.”
“We demand impartial justice without any manipulation. When justice is dispensed fairly and promptly, we can have confidence that justice truly prevails for all, and not just as a mere motto hanging on the walls of the Temple of Justice,” the release added.
Meanwhile, the Council is calling on the public to refrain from politicizing the matter and allow the judicial system to carry out its duties.
The Council stressed that the primary objective, both for the people of Liberia and the international community, is to ensure fair justice is served, regardless of the individuals held accountable.