The impeachment trial of Associate Justice Kabineh Ja’neh has started at the Liberian Senate, with opening formalities marked by a passionate appeal from Chief Justice Francis Korkpor for lawyers involved in the ongoing litigation to be cautious to each other at all times during the trial.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, however, called the impeachment trial of the Associate Justice to order amidst requests by Ja’neh’s lawyers for his recusal.
The proceeding is expected to reconvene on Monday, February 18, but Korkpor told members of the Liberian Senate at the inception of the trial on Thursday that as the presiding officer, he is committed to the process and will be in full control of the proceedings.
“I shall pass on all relevant applications raised during the trial, both sides will be treated equally and fairly in keeping with the law, the parties will only speak through their respective counsels,” he said.
He reminded all parties that the Senate’s chamber was not a courtroom, adding that he will ensure that the calm and serenity that prevail in courtrooms during the trial exist in the chamber.
Focusing more on setting the ground rules to guide the proceeding henceforth, Korkpor maintained that though grounds of the proceeding is a public forum, there will be no clapping, jeering and booing, warning that violators will be escorted out of the chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate.
“The constitution requires that impeachment proceedings conform to due process of law, (and) it is my responsibility as the presiding officer to ensure that all parties, including the justice who is on trial, are accorded due process. Presumption of innocence is at the core of our jurisprudence and we shall respect this through this trial,” Korkpor indicated.
Also in his opening remarks, Senate Pro-tempore Albert Chie said that the Liberian Senate is not a party to the case, but empowered by the Constitution to listen to the evidence and make a decision to convict or acquit.
“The Senate played no role in the formulation of the charges, it is the House of Representatives that prepared the indictment in the same way the House cannot take part in the decision-making of the trial,” Chie said.
According to him, the role of the Senate is to give the accused a free and fair trial.
He informed the body that it was important that members of the Senate, as well as parties to the trial, take note of the fact that records of impeachment trial are sparse in Liberia’s legal jurisprudence and political space and, as such, the body has been reviewing information available under the American system which the Liberian system resembles.
He reminded the presiding officer that his role is essentially to provide legal guidance to the process and not to turn the Senate into a courthouse with lawyers geared-up for legal battle with prolonged motions and delays.