Justice Minister Christiana Tah has apologized to the Supreme Court, through Solicitor- General Beatrice Larmie Blamo, after being charged with contempt by the high court.
Minister Tah and Cllr. Beyan Howard, the lawyer representing Journalist Rodney Sieh were cited by the Supreme Court on contempt charges, following the release of the newspaper publisher on compassionate grounds by the Justice Minister.
Journalist Sieh was jailed since August 21, 2013 on the order of the Civil Law Court following his failure to pay the amount of US$1.5 in damages to former Agriculture Minister Chris Toe for stories published in the newspaper, accusing him of his failure to account for millions of United States dollars given by the government to fight armyworm infestations in two regions of the country.
Sieh was ordered released on a 30-day compassionate leave by the Justice Ministry on October 7, 2013 based on his lawyers’ request after he was admitted at the J.F.K. Medical Center in Monrovia for malaria from his prison cell at the Central Prison Compound in Monrovia.
The compassionate leave granted by the Justice Ministry was in consonance with Article 34.20 of the criminal procedure law which gives an inmate temporary release to attend the funeral of a relative, or under other extreme circumstances.
Following Sieh’s temporary release, Justice Minister Tah and Cllr. Howard (Sieh’s Lawyer) was slapped with contempt charges for allegedly showing disrespect to the court.
During the hearing on Monday, Friends of the Court led by Cllr. Negbalee Warner told the court that the high court had the jurisdiction to precede with the contempt charges, further noting to the court that the reasons, under which the compassionate leave was granted the journalist, did not form the requirement laid down in Article 34.20 of the Criminal Procedure law.
Solicitor General Blamo, who fumbled before the high court during the proceeding, told the court that the decision to have the journalist granted the leave was because the Ministry realized that he was mentally deranged and suicidal at the times of detention in prison.
She told the court that the decision to temporarily release the newspaper Editor was reached in consultations with his doctor, and the Bureau of Correction at the Ministry of Justice.
The Solicitor General, not properly familiar with provisions under the law that could secure a prisoner’s release on compassionate grounds, at most part of the proceeding openly admitted to the court that some of her reasons given for the release of the journalist were not applicable under the Criminal Procedure Law Article 34.20.
In closing, former Solicitor General Wilkins Wright told the court that the Justice Ministry had no intentions of undermining the credibility of the high court and apologized, adding that the error was not an error of the heart, but the head.
“Since our conduct caused embarrassment for the high court, we wish to apologize, “said Wright.
Cllr. Zoe, who represented the legal interest of Beyan Howard, also told the court that he had not appeared to justify anything, and that the case was the first of its kind in the court, calling on the high court to exercise determination in the case to set precedence.
Following a series of questions posed by all the five justices of the Supreme Court to the parties involved with the case, Chief Justice Francis Korkpor ordered that the ruling in the case be reserved in due course based on a notice of the assignment, while the Justice Ministry has ordered the journalist placed under house arrest.