Liberia’s Criminal Justice Systems: A Basic Comparative Analysis of a Developing Criminal Justice System

A picture depicting the facade of the Liberian Temple of Justice, aka the Liberian Supreme Court.

Essential Characteristics of Liberia’s Criminal Justice System

As discussed above, the modern political state of Liberia was founded by former enslaved Black Americans and descendants of enslaved Black Americans in 1822.[1] The United States government, primarily through the American Colonization Society and the newly freed Black Americans, worked together to form the structure of Liberia’s government.[2] Liberia’s 1847 Constitution largely mirrored the Constitution of the United States in establishing Liberia’s legal structure. The 1847 Constitution established a unitary state consisting of a powerful central government with three branches, the Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary.[3] Moreover, eerily similar to the U.S. Constitution, the 1847 Liberian Constitutes provided a general and largely minimal description of Liberia’s judiciary function.[4] A branch that is entrusted with “all judicial power.”[5] The 1847 Constitution’s Article IV created the Supreme Court of Liberia and its subsequent federal courts; while also establishing the original jurisdiction of its federal courts.[6](“ The Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction in all cases affecting ambassadors, or other public ministers and consuls, and those to which a County shall be a party. In all other cases, the Supreme Court shall have appellate jurisdiction, both as to law and fact, with such exceptions, and under such regulations as the Legislature shall from time to time make.”)[7] The judiciary of Liberia, like the United States, was given the difficult task of interpreting the law of the country while not being given much guidance on how to do it. This dichotomy between ideal and reality continues to reverberate through subsequent Constitutions and Liberian society as a whole.

Basic Legal Characteristics

In this part of our discussion, I will examine the basic characteristics of Liberia’s current legal structure as defined in its 1986 Constitution. The 1986 Constitution of Liberia maintains the unitary state and three-branch governmental structure established in the 1847 Constitution. However, notably, the 1986 Constitution further defines the role of the Judiciary and, more importantly, outlines the criminal justice process and the rights afforded defendants in a trial. Notably, Article 73 provides judicial immunity for judicial officers when functioning in their judicial role.[8]

Liberia’s Courts and its Judicial Actors

Liberia’s Judiciary consists of One Supreme Court, Eighteen Circuit Courts, magisterial district courts, and several specialty courts.[14] Each of Liberia’s courts serve a particular purpose and are important to judicial administration within the state.

Adjudicatory Proceedings and Lay Participation

As discussed above, Liberia’s governmental system is largely adapted from the United States, and the political state of Liberia was formed by African American immigrants from the U.S. to Liberia in the 19th Century who formed the Liberian government. In examining the textbook, Liberia’s criminal procedural system is more of an adversarial system because it requires that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty, both parties present evidence in court, and the court via jury or judge determines guilt or innocence.[40]

Features from Liberia that the United States Could Adopt

The American and Liberian criminal justice systems are similar in that they share a common law tradition, with a robust legal code while also ensuring that accused persons are protected under the law and have access to counsel. There is not much that Liberia has that America does not in terms of its criminal justice system because Liberia’s system was largely based upon the United State’s system. However, the use of an independent Jury Management Office that is tasked with the selection, education, and assignment of jurors to courts; could be beneficial in America by removing the responsibility for jury selection from the Clerk of Court to an independent office. Moreover, the Office of Jury Management could potentially decrease the social marginalization of jury selection in America while bringing in greater diversity. All of this is conjecture and likely depends on how the Office of Jury Management would be created and selected in America. Yet, similarly to Liberia, in America, the Office of Jury Management should fall under the purview of the Circuit Courts in the federal system and State Supreme Courts in state systems.

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Ian Courts

Ian Courts

Attorney, Young Black Voice, Law & Politics Observer. HBCU Law Alumnus, and Fur dad!