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Appointment of Liberia’s Acting Chief Justice Questioned

  • James Butty

Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia with Justice Francis Korkpor front

Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia with Justice Francis Korkpor front

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has appointed Associate Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. as Chief Justice Ad Interim of the Supreme Court of Liberia.

This follows the early retirement of Chief Justice Johnnie Lewis due to failing health.

The Executive Mansion said the president asked Justice Korkpor to serve as Chief Justice Ad Interim until a Chief Justice is nominated and confirmed by the Liberian Senate.

Counselor Jerome Verdier, former chairman of Liberia’s disbanded Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said President Sirleaf’s use of the phrase Ad Interim in naming Justice Korkpor as Acting Chief Justice of Liberia is unconstitutional.

“The constitution requires the appointment of a Chief of Justice, not Ad Interim, and then with the consent of the Senate. So to do otherwise, is unconstitutional and I think amounts to unnecessary interference of the work of the Supreme Court because the court under the Constitution has its own set governing rules. So, in instances where there is not a Chief Justice, the rules of the court will prevail, and the justices amongst themselves, in exercising the rules of the court, will know or could announce who is acting Chief Justice until an appointment is made,” he said.

The Liberian Senate is currently on its annual recess until January 2013. Verdier said President Sirleaf could have waited until the Senate returns from its recess before making the appointment for them to confirm, but not to make it “Ad Interim”.

“If the legislature is on recess, the Chief Justice can be appointed pending confirmation. The Supreme Court will not be held in abeyance because the legislature has not done its confirmation. Without her action, the Supreme Court will still function, and the most senior [Justice] amongst them will act as interim head. But it’s not her place to tell them who should act as interim head,” Verdier said.

The naming of Justice Korkpor as acting Chief Justice Ad Interim has been welcomed by many Liberians. But a few have raised concerns that Justice Korkpor does not hold an LL.M. (Master of Laws), an internationally recognized postgraduate law degree.

But Verdier says an LL.M. degree is not a requirement with respect to the credentials of law practitioners in Liberia.

“Substantively, you should attend a law school from any other country that is recognized by Liberia and then you should have tenure. So, it is legal education, it is tenure, and it is moral standing. And in the case of Justice Korkpor, I’m confident if “Ad Interim” had not been added to his appointment, Liberians would have embraced it whole-heartedly. Be that as it may, there is no question about his moral standing or his qualification,” Verdier said.

Reportedly, Justice Korkpor is a graduate of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. He is a former Interim Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and a trial lawyer. He is also the longest serving Justice of the current Supreme Court Bench.

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