Liberia: Weah’s new Chief Justice will have to win confidence of Liberians

By Dounard Bondo

Posted on Wednesday, 31 August 2022 17:20
Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh in 2019 (photo: twitter)

President George Weah has nominated Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh as the next chief justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia. If confirmed by the senate, Justice Yuoh will replace Chief Justice Francis Korpor who is set to retire next month.

Justice Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh is one of two female justices currently on Liberia’s Supreme Court bench after her appointment in 2013 by former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is the third most senior justice at the country’s apex court.

If confirmed by the senate, she will be the third female chief justice in the court’s 174-year history. Be that as it may, she will be facing her biggest challenge yet as the head of a judicial system: changing public perception that the judiciary is corrupt and politicised.


The Liberian judicial system also has an overcrowded docket due to the slow processing time and lack of adequate number of courts available to hear cases. As a result, there is a high number of pretrial detainees leading to overcrowded prisons. As it stands, 77% of inmates at Monrovia’s central prison – Liberia’s biggest – are pretrial detainees.

Accusations of corruption in the judiciary are also rife. According to the United States 2021 human rights report, “Judges and magistrates are subjected to influence and engage in corruption. Judges sometimes solicited bribes to try cases, grant bail to detainees, award damages in civil cases, or acquit defendants in criminal cases. Defence attorneys and prosecutors sometimes suggested defendants pay bribes to secure favourable decisions from judges, prosecutors, and jurors, or to have court staff place cases on the docket for trial”.

Critics also allege that the corruption or lack of independence of the judicial system is evidenced by the purported use of the judiciary to protect political allies of the president. The fears of continued influence over the court have been highlighted due to Justice Youh’s relationship with her ex-husband Edwin Snowe, a senator and key ally of the president.

The United States 2021 human rights report further says: “Some judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcome of some trials appeared to be predetermined, especially when the accused persons were politically connected or socially prominent.”

In early August, the American government sanctioned key allies of the president: Nathaniel McGill (minister of state for presidential affairs and chief of staff to the president); Bill Twehway (head of the port authority) and Syrenius Cephus (the current solicitor general and chief prosecutor of Liberia).

Amongst other claims, Cephus is accused of using his position to hinder investigations and block the prosecution of corruption cases involving members of the government while tampering with and purposefully withholding evidence in cases involving members of opposition political parties to ensure conviction.

Although these key allies were suspended, they have not been charged despite the president announcing that an investigation would be conducted. Many believe the announcement was merely to appease the opposition, but allies of the president might be in the dock due to a change in the law, which gives the Liberian anti-corruption commission prosecutorial powers.

Weah’s interests and allies might be in the docket

Prior to the July 2022 amendment of the Act that created the Liberia Anti- Corruption Commission (LACC), corruption investigations were to be reported to the ministry of justice, which in turn was required to prosecute the alleged corrupt individuals.

However, despite the fact that the the LACC has indicted senior government officials for corruption – including the minister for agriculture, the head of Liberia’s water and sewer corporation, and the head of the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) – the justice ministry did not prosecute any of the individuals.

Additionally, Twehway was sanctioned on claims that included “secretly forming a private company to which, through his position at the port authority, he later unilaterally awarded a contract for loading and unloading cargo at the Port of Buchanan”. This allegation had previously been reported by local media and he was indicted by the LACC, but the justice ministry still did not prosecute him.

Following an amendment of the LACC Act in July 2022 that gives the commission prosecutorial powers, Justice Youh might be faced with cases that involve said allies, if the anti-corruption body chooses to prosecute. She could also face cases involving key integrity institutions as the current head of the LACC has threatened to challenge a clause in the new Act that will give the president the power to replace all commissioners of the anti-corruption commission.

More importantly, with the 2023 elections and the political cases that ceremoniously accompany them, Justice Youh will be put in a position to establish and showcase the court’s independence and reinforce the public’s faith in the judiciary.

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