Former Justice Minister and outgoing Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, Cllr. Philips A. Z. Banks, III, has been commissioned as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia. The commissioning was performed on Friday, September 2, by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, during a ceremony held at the C. Cecil Dennis. Jr. Auditorium and attended by Vice President Joseph N. Boakai, the Chief Justice, His Honor Johnnie N. Lewis, and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court Bench, the President Pro Tempore of the Liberian Senate, Cletus Wotorson, government officials, members of the Diplomatic Corps and members of the Bar Association of Liberia, including former Chief Justice Henry Reed Cooper, as well as family members and other well-wishers.
In her remarks, President Johnson Sirleaf said Cllr. Banks was chosen to fill the vacancy because he carries with him to the Supreme Court a record of exceptional experience as a practicing lawyer, public servant, and legal scholar.
The President said that in the exercise of the nominating and appointing powers vested in her by the Constitution, she had reflected deeply and reviewed closely the record of the many lawyers eligible for appointment to the Bench of the highest Court. “I concluded, without reservation, that Counselor Banks is the right person to fill the seat….,” an Executive Mansion release quoted the President as saying.
The Liberian leader said she has no doubt that the new Associate Justice will carry to the Supreme Court “that legal erudition coupled with the high integrity, commitment and dedication to fairness that the nation’s highest judicial office demands, and that he will leave a legacy of which we will all be proud.”
Responding, Cllr. Banks thanked the Liberian leader and the Senate for his preferment. He described his appointment to the Supreme Court Bench as part of the President’s continuing effort to tackle the bad habits and the corruption in society. “I come to the Bench with a strong resolve. I will not be on the payroll of any lawyer or any law firm. My opinion will not be dictated other than by my conscience,” the new Associate Justice declared.
Cllr. Banks cited a shortcoming in the country’s legal system where, so often, laws are borrowed from other jurisdictions. He added, “I will not borrow the law of any jurisdiction unless it suits a particular circumstance that we are dealing with. I will not borrow the opinion of the United States courts unless those opinions fit into our situation here.” He observed that laws in other jurisdictions may be good but that a determination must be made if they are good for Liberia, given the country’s own peculiar circumstances.
Cllr. Banks goes to the Supreme Court with a record of exceptional experience as a practicing lawyer, public servant, and legal scholar. He has been practicing and teaching law for more than three decades since graduating Magna Cum Laude from the University of Liberia’s Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law and from the Yale Law School in the United States.
At Friday’s ceremony, the President also commissioned Counselors Eva Mae Mappy Morgan, Richard S. Klah and Chan Chan Paygar as Chief Judge and Associate Judges, respectively, of the new Commercial Court.
The head of the new Court, Judge Morgan, thanked the Liberian leader for the confidence reposed in them, and assured the President that she and her colleagues would be fearless and courageous in the discharge of their duties. “Our decisions will not be for sale. We will try to rid this country of the narrative of corruption, that we are all corrupt. We will try our best and ensure that, when we make decisions, they will be scholarly, they will be well thought out, they will be well written, and that this country, the residents, foreigners and nationals alike, will be proud.”
Last year, in consonance with a submission by the President, the Legislature enacted into law a modern Commercial Code and an Act to establish the nation’s first ever exclusively Commercial Court. It is intended that with the new Code and Court in place, the huge backlog of cases based on financial and commercial disputes will be reduced, and confidence in doing business in Liberia will be enhanced.
Earlier on Friday, the Liberian President launched the Law Reform Commission’s Five-Year Strategic Plan. The Plan, said President Johnson Sirleaf, will serve as a road map in ensuring that government meets the needs of the justice and other related sectors for the promotion of justice and the rule of law in Liberia. The Commission, she said, must not only attend to coordinating the law reform process, but, working with the Ministry of Justice and partners, “it must help bring our laws up to date, to international standards, and meet the needs of our people.”
The Strategic Plan provides a road map, framework, actions and institutional building that the Commission will implement within the next five years.
The outgoing Chairman of the Law Reform Commission, Cllr. Banks, thanked the Liberian President for the support the government has provided in enhancing the Commission’s work. He observed that the establishment of the Commission was not by accident, but a deliberate determination by government that there was need for an institution to move the law reform process forward. He predicted that in five years, through the efforts of the Commission, the laws of Liberia would be organized in a coherent, systematic and coordinated manner.
President Johnson Sirleaf has, at the same time, named Cllr. Jallah A. Barbu to succeed Cllr. Banks as Chairman of the Law Reform Commission. Cllr. Deweh Gray will serve as Commissioner and Vice Chair, while Cllr. Sie-A-Nyeneh Yuoh was named a Commissioner.
In other news, the President also made the following appointments at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism: Mr. Anthony Selmah, Minister Counsel for Press & Public Affairs, Liberian Embassy in London; and Mr. Isaac C. Yeah, Minister Counsel for Press & Public Affairs, Liberian Embassy, European Union, based in Brussels/Paris.
The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Liberian Senate where applicable.