By: R. Joyclyn Wea
Magistrates in the rural parts of Liberia have been tussling over cases due to the creation of more Magisterial Courts in Counties that are underpopulated.
Article 34 (E) of the Liberian Constitution provides that, “The Legislature shall have the power to constitute courts inferior to the Supreme Court, including Circuit Courts, Claims’ Courts and other courts and prescribe jurisdictional powers as may be deemed necessary for the proper administration of justice, throughout the Republic.
In addition to the above, the Judiciary Law Revised Code 17:7.2 gives the President unfettered powers and discretion to expand the Magisterial Courts’ Jurisdiction, designate new Magisterial areas and appoint Magistrates as he deems fit.
The said provision states thus: “The President is empowered, whenever in his discretion he shall deem it necessary and expedient, to extend the geographic area over which any presently established Magisterial Court has jurisdiction and to designate additional Magisterial Areas and establish Magisterial Courts therein, the number and extent of which shall be such as he may decide.”
In the exercise of their respective authorities under the above-quoted Laws, Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh noted that the Supreme Court has observed that the Legislature and President, over the years, have created more Magisterial Courts in Counties that are geographically small and less populated thus resulting into the clustering of these Magisterial Courts in these areas.
Justice Yuoh referenced Sinoe and Grand Kru Counties with less population, but still have more Magisterial Courts than populated Counties, like Montserrado, Nimba, Bong, and Lofa.
Sinoe County has 33 Magisterial Courts, including a traffic court, while Grand Kru County has 28 Magisterial Courts.
The Chief Justice claimed that as a result of this, Magistrates in these Counties are usually competing with one another for cases, since the number of Magisterial Courts required for these counties are way above the needs of these counties.
Moreover and what is considered detrimental to the Judiciary is the fact that most times, these Magisterial Courts are created without the requisite budgetary allotments relative to salaries for the newly appointed Magistrates and their staffs.
Justice Yuoh noted that it is the Supreme Court, in situations like these, that are left with the full financial burdens and embarrassment.
In order to change this narrative, the Chief Justice stressed the need for stronger coordination between and among the three Branches of Government with regard to the establishment of Magisterial Courts and the appointment of Magistrates in Counties that are populated.