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Minister of justice suspended for granting "compassionate release" to Liberian editor

Councillor Christiana Tah, Minister of Justice and Dean of the Supreme Court, and FrontPage Africa (FPA) newspaper Lawyer Councillor Beyan Howard have been suspended for six months.

Both lawyers were found guilty of contempt in connection with a reprieve, compassionate release, granted to the erstwhile libel convict, Frontpage Africa editor Rodney Sieh. By this Supreme Court verdict – handed down Friday, 10 January 2014 – the two lawyers must, for six months, cease to practice law directly or indirectly. This, in essence, means that the government's biggest lawyer cannot practice law within the meaning and intent constituting the definition of "practice of law" in the Liberian Jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court claims that on October 7, 2013, Minister Tah released journalist Rodney Sieh from prison "without any legal reference or deference to the court".

The Supreme Court ruling the minister's action is "contemptuous [and] not consistent with section 34.20 (1) of the criminal procedure laws of Liberia…." Said ruling added that the actions of respondents were to instead proceed through the executive branch of government and release a prisoner who had been imprisoned, without any reference to the judiciary, in utter violation of the doctrine of separation of powers as enshrined in the Liberian constitution.

It can be recalled that after the temporary release of Sieh by the Justice Minister and Councillor Beyan Howard, the Supreme Court threatened the duo with debarment, if they – who worked on the compassionate release – did not apologize to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, legal analysts say, the suspension could lead to the dismissal of Minister Tah. Since the position of Justice Minister is reserved for a practicing lawyer, the six-month suspension would mean she would not be able to sign documents on behalf of the government or represent the government of Liberia in any legal matter. 

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