A disturbing report by the United Nations Mission in Liberia(UNMIL) on Liberia’s justice system has revealed that only 3 per cent of cases docketed in 2010 went to trial, leaving thousands of citizens young and old who are innocent until proven guilty rotting in the country’s prisons.
The comprehensive report was compiled by the UNMIL’s Legal and Judicial Systems Support Division (LJSSD). UNMIL’S Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Rule of Law, Mr. Louis Aucoinin, offered several recommendations to the government in a bid to improve the country’s weak justice system.
According to the report, only 82 of 2,234 cases docketed across the country by the Circuit Courts in 2010 were completely tried. These docketed cases, the report noted, included sexual and gender-based violence such as rape, and crimes like armed robbery and corruption. The report showed that 2,015 cases were untried and carried forward to 2011.
One hundred and thirty seven cases were thrown out without trials due to procedures under the criminal procedure laws. Among the 15 counties, Montserrado has the highest number of cases docketed (70 per cent) followed by Bong and Lofa. Maryland and Gbarpolu had the least number of cases.
Mr. Aucoinin of UNMIL’s legal division attributed the massive backlog to poor record keeping, procedures and lack of awareness on legal matters by citizens. He pointed out that many citizens lack confidence in the justice system and because of this, witnesses are not coming forward to testify in trials across the country.
The LJSSD recommended that the Liberian government amend the laws on jurisdiction to balance the case load more evenly among Circuit Courts within Montserrado County. The report called for expanding magisterial court jurisdiction to reduce the burden and backlog on the circuit courts.
The government should also consider placing “more than one judge in each circuit, with a possible division of labor between civil and criminal matters,” the report among other things added.