Additional Budgetary Support Needed -To Provide Adequate Access to Justice By: Yassah J. Wright

34

The lawyers who represent poor people accused of committing both felonious and non-felonious crimes across the country say the public defenders program needs additional budgetary support from the Government of Liberia and partners to provide adequate legal representation as provided by law to indigent criminal defendants across the country. The right to legal counsel for those accused of crimes in Liberia is a right enshrined in the 1986 Constitution, but could be threatened by inadequate budgetary and logistical supports. Cllr. Bestman Darward Juah stated that additional budgetary support needed to provide adequate access to justice to indigent criminal defendants. Article 21 (c), (f), (h) and (i) guarantee anyone facing criminal charge(s) the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and legal counsel. And with its 2009 decision establishing the National Association of Public Defenders of Liberia (NAPDOL), the Supreme Court has held that anyone charged with a serious crime has a “fundamental” right to counsel. However, addressing his audience on Friday, February 9, 2024 at the NAPDOL’s 6th Annual Convention, Cllr. Jua said the program over the years has strived to further enhance access to justice to indigent party litigants.  “There are challenges faced by the program including inadequate budgetary and logistical supports by the government, ” Cllr. Juah recounted. “To make the program efficient and effective, additional budgetary and logistical supports are needed from the government of Liberia and partners in the Rule of Law Sector respectively,” he stressed. Appreciating his colleagues during the convention, Cllr. Juah said, ‘I like to applaud all public defenders throughout the country for their commitment in providing access to justice and/or legal aid to criminal defendants in Liberia through adequate legal representations.” The program was held under the Theme: Lawyers and Clients Relationship: The Case of Indigent Clients. The convention was attended by Her Honor, Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, Chief Justice of the Honourable Supreme Court of Liberia who delivered a Special Statement on behalf of the Full Bench of the  Supreme Court of Liberia. The convention was also attended by executives and members of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA). Cllr. Juah, Vice President and Co-Chairman of the National Executive Committee of the National Association of Public Defenders of Liberia (NAPDOL), in his opening remarks, officially welcomed Chief Justice Sie-A-Nyene G. Yuoh, executives and members of the Liberian National Bar Association(LNBA), special invitees and delegates respectively to the convention. He further stated that convening the Association was in consonance with Article 23, Sub-Section 3 of the Constitution of NAPDOL which provides amongst other things, that the Association shall convene every year to receive reports from the leadership on the fiscal activities of the association as well as deliberate on its growth and development. Cllr. Juah recounted that the milestones of the National Association of Public Defenders of Liberia (NAPDOL) are attributed to the Office of the Chief Justice of the Honourable Supreme Court of Liberia because it is the office that gave birth to the Association in 2009.  International human rights instruments recognize that when a person’s fundamental rights to life and liberty are put at risk by the State, that person has a right to legal assistance to ensure that the State properly fulfills its obligations imposed by law, without violating the rights of the individual in the process.  As a result, the Eighth UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders adopted, in 1990, the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers making its first principle the following: “All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings.” The basic Principles further places responsibility upon the government and the legal profession to ensure that everyone has access to counsel, regardless of means or background, to protect the right to equality before the law. Consistent with the aforementioned international obligations as imposed by internal law, the Supreme Court of Liberia in 2009, established the National Public Defense Program aims at providing legal representation to indigent criminal defendants; as well as enhancing access to justice to all individuals suspected or accused of crimes, including those arrested or detained”, with the goal of protecting the fundamental rights of the criminal defendant as enshrined in Article 21 ( c) , (f ), (h) and (i) of the Constitution of Liberia (1986).

The Judiciary’s Public Defense Program thus serves as a guarantee to “access to legal defense and legal aid. Legal aid is intended to include the concepts of legal education, access to legal information and other services provided for persons through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and restorative justice processes” (General Assembly resolution 67/187, annex, para.  Public defenders shall direct all legal aid and access to justice functions of the Courts of assignment, on behalf of indigent party litigants seeking justice through the Judiciary Court system. It can be recalled that Cllr. Juah was overwhelmingly elected vice president of NAPDOL by acclamation in July 2023 by his colleagues.  He is a licensed lawyer actively practicing before the magisterial, specialized and circuit courts and Honourable Supreme Court of Liberia respectively.  He is a former associate of Brumskine and Associates Law Firm. In April 2018, he was appointed Public Defender by Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor, Sr.  Prior to his appointment as public defender, Cllr. Juah worked with the Supreme Court of Liberia as Research Officer assigned to the Chambers of the Honourable Jamesetta Howard Wolokolie, Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia from 2014 to March 2018. His primary duties amongst other things were to conduct comprehensive legal research and assist in the drafting and preparation of Opinions and Judgments of the Honourable Supreme Court of Liberia. Subsequently, in 2019, Cllr. Juah was appointed member of the Legal Aid Committee of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) by Counsellor Tiawan S. Gongloe, former President of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA) where he provided pro-bono legal services to indigent party litigants at the Liberian National Bar Association’s (LNBA) Legal Aid Clinics in Montserrado and Bong Counties in criminal and civil cases respectively. Also, as a staff of the Division of Probation, Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Ministry of Justice, Cllr. Juah provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Justice in operationalizing Chapter 33 of the Criminal Procedure Law of Liberia on suspended sentence or probation after forty (40) years of dormancy of said statutory provision.

Comments are closed.