The Liberian Supreme Court over the weekend issued a writ of prohibition in the corruption case against Gyude Bryant, former chairman of the National Transitional Government. Bryant, who served as transitional government leader from October 2003 to January 16, 2006, was arrested and indicted March 13 for allegedly converting one-point-four million dollars to his personal use. But his lawyers asked the Supreme Court to stop the prosecution on the grounds that Bryant is a former head of state who brought peace to the country.
Jonathan Williams is former dean and professor of law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. He said the example of sovereign immunity from criminal prosecution as claimed by Bryant’s lawyers might not apply.
“To start with, the court has asked the government of Liberia to file arguments on or before the third day of April A.D. 2007. When issues adjoined, the court will then pass on the pleadings of both Gyude Bryant lawyers and lawyers representing the Liberian government,” he said.
Williams said there is precedence in Liberian laws where a head of state had argued for sovereign immunity from prosecution. But he said the corruption charges against Gyude Bryant might not qualify.
“In the case Charles Dunbar Burgess King (16th president of Liberia) as found in 3LLR, pages 337 - By 3LLR I mean Volume 3, Liberian Law Report. Charles Burgess King argued that the president’s liability during the term of office cannot be brought to court after his tenure. The lawyers for Gyude Bryant went along the same lines,” Williams said.
He said while President Charles Dunbar Burgess King was never found guilty for slavery, the case of Gyude Bryant does not bear any similarity.
“Unlike CDB King, the issue there did not have anything to do with presumption of theft from the national coffers, which to some extent has been admitted to and some of those who are seen as assets blame Gyude Bryant for their malfeasance. So I do not see any similarity,” he said.
Williams said in the case involving CDB King, the emphasis was on King’s vice president. As such, he said King was not found guilty of slavery. But Williams said there are many angles.
“It is true that King and Bryant were acting at one point for and on behalf of the Liberian government or state. But the fact that they acted as heads of government does of itself give Gyude Bryant the right to rely on the case,” he said.
Williams said Justice Gladys Kiawu Johnson, the justice in chamber was right to issue a writ of prohibition because the case against Gyude Bryant is a constitutional one, which means the entire Supreme Court bench must sit and listen to both sides in the case.