Former Associate Justice Banks Warns Against Unconstitutional Impeachment Trial

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Former Associate Justice Philip Banks has called the legislature’s decision to impeach and try Justice Kabineh Ja’neh unconstitutional and added that it could be challenged in court.

On Thursday, March 21, Banks took the witness stand to testify for the defense in the ongoing impeachment trial of the Supreme Court associate justice currently taking place before the Liberian Senate.

Banks, who retired last year as an associate justice after reaching the mandatory retirement age, cited constitutional violations in the crafting of the procedure that is governing the trial.

“How can you proceed with an impeachment that has no uniform rules as provided for by the constitution of Liberia? There should be one set of conduct, not separate rules of conduct,” he said.

Banks added that Article 43 of the Liberian constitution calls for the legislature to prepare the rules that will govern impeachment trial for all public officials in the country, but said such was not done in the case involving the current impeachment trial.

He, meanwhile, cautioned members of the Senate against proceeding with the current impeachment trial for fear that it will set an unconstitutional precedent. He stressed that if the processes leading to the trial are unconstitutional, the final decision into the case may obviously be in violation of the constitution.

According to Banks, his decision to serve as an expert witness at the ongoing impeachment trial goes far behind Justice Ja’neh.

He said since 1986 when the current constitution came into existence, the legislature has failed to prepare the rules for impeachment as provided for by Articles 43 and 29 of the constitution> It was only done after the House of Representatives decided to proceed with the current impeachment proceeding. He said lawmakers’ decision to formulate rules for a specific trial was not the intent of the framers of the constitution.

“It was not the intent of the framers to say the rule will target a specific person or group of people. The rule has to be designed to cover everybody,” he stressed.

“The legislature should have done impeachment rules long since – perhaps a year after the 1986 constitution was introduced – wherein people will know that there are straight rules to remove public officials. But the proceeding now going here today is a totally different procedure.”

According to the former associate justice, if the action of the House of Representatives was not in line with the law, the legality of a proceeding action by the Senate will also be challenged, thus undermining the country’s justice system.

He, however, recommended that a commission be established by President George Weah to conduct an investigation into impeachable offenses and present a bill of impeachment that the Senate can act on.

“I did not come to this hearing to influence the senators, but I believe I have a commitment to my country,” he added.

Banks further explained the importance of ensuring impartiality in the impeachment process, so that no one can claim they received an unfair judgment.

Featured photo courtesy of Ministry of Justice

Ida Reeves

Ida Reeves is a senior student at the University of Liberia studying Mass Communications and Sociology. She graduated from the Young Political Leadership School and has worked in the past for Farbric Radio, Freedom Radio, and Frontier newspaper.

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