By its Resolution 1509, the Security Council requested UNMIL to assist the National Transitional Government of Liberia (and now the elected Government) to develop a strategy for consolidating a national legal framework, including judicial institutions. In compliance with this request, the Legal and Judicial System Support Division (LJSSD) of UNMIL maintains an on-going collaborative working relationship with representatives of the national legal and judicial institutions (the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, the Liberian Bar Association, and the Arthur Grimes School of Law of the University of Liberia), relevant United Nations organizations in Liberia, interested international partners and the civil society. The objective is to develop and implement pragmatic solutions for the myriad problems and challenges facing Liberia's justice system with the ultimate aim of re-establishing the supremacy of the rule of law in post-conflict Liberia, as well as re-establishing the Law School as a centre of legal education, scholarship and training of personnel for service in the legal and judicial sectors.
The Division has carried out assessments of the status of courts in all the 15 counties to evaluate their operational facilities and capacities - logistical, infrastructural and human resource needs, as well as their training needs. These assessments have revealed that the legal and judicial institutions continue to operate under tremendous constraints and are desperately in need of assistance. Difficulties facing the judicial system include a shortage of qualified judges, magistrates and other support staff.
In terms of infrastructural constraints, there are no courthouses in some regions. Those courts functioning are doing so under very difficult conditions, including being housed in dilapidated or completely destroyed buildings. It is essential that all courts in the country become operational and that their institutional and manpower capacity enhanced to a reasonably qualitative degree to ensure an effective functioning of the justice system as the country seeks to re-establish the supremacy of the of rule of law. It is vital to have all courts in the country functioning and the rule of law restored in consonance with the efforts of the Government to restore civil authority and administration to all parts of Liberia, especially in the light of possible multiple disputes over ownership of properties as Internally Displaced Persons return to their counties. The Legal and Judicial System Support Division assists the national and international stakeholders in facilitating the opening of the courts and in increasing the capacity of those already functioning.
Although significant headway has been made in the Division's efforts to help reform the justice system, the lack of material resources and qualified personnel continue to hamper UNMIL's efforts in this regard. Funds have not yet been received from donor agencies who have expressed interest in supporting projects. Reform of the justice sector, therefore, continues, albeit at a slow pace. Despite these daunting challenges and constraints, members of the legal and judicial institutions continue to demonstrate a genuine commitment to jump-start the justice system, particularly in the counties/regions. Many are working in earnest to re-establish and reform the justice sector, to uphold the rule of law and to help rebuild public trust and confidence in the institutions of this sector.
The Division has deployed its staff to cover the counties. The Division's primary activities here include information gathering, monitoring and advisory activities to help implement reforms needed to strengthen the capacity of the courts and the prosecution. The Division is currently undertaking several projects in this regard.
The division is also co-located at the Judiciary, the Legislature and at the Ministry of Justice to provide advice, assistance and support to these key institutions and ensure that they are fully functional and that they deliver quality prosecution. The Division has intensified its efforts to seek donor funding for critically needed capital works, basic material resources, facilities, training and some of the key initiatives and projects envisaged. UNMIL is also working with other potential donors and it is hoped that some funding for urgently required legal and judicial reform projects would be forthcoming. The US government has also granted US $ 1 million to assist the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary. However, the concern remains that donor funding has been slow in coming and not enough to tackle the daunting challenges facing legal and judicial system.
The Division has been actively working with the Ministry of Justice on a programme of law revision, harmonization and drafting of laws, and codification and compilation of Laws. Several Liberian laws are out of date and need to be repealed or updated. The Division has assisted the Ministry of Justice with the revision of the bail law, legislation on rape and sexual offenses, legislation against human trafficking, legislation on the reform of the drug laws, the Security Agency Laws, reform of the jury system and the increase in the jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Courts.
The Division is working closely with the Legislative Modernization Committee and the House Judiciary Committee with a view of revitalization of legislative bureaus aimed at strengthening the law making capacity of the Legislature. Five Specialized Committees have been set up to identify what can be done with the existing resources and what would need donor support. LJSSD provides technical advice to these Committees.
The Division in consultation with the Ministry of Justice, the Liberian Bar Association and other international stakeholders is involved in roundtable discussions on the working of both the statutory and traditional justice systems. Several roundtable discussions have been held where Empirical research findings and consultative papers been presented. The ultimate goal is to come up with policy options that the Government might consider on the way forward for reform where the statutory and traditional systems of justice compliment each other.
The Division continues to distribute to the courts and prosecutorial offices, in Monrovia and throughout the country, copies of essential laws and legal texts, which were looted during the civil conflict. In addition, the Division has agreed to provide to the Ministry of Justice copies of essential research materials, which are not available in Liberia, which will be of invaluable assistance in relation to the assimilation of data and information, to be used in relation to proposed law reporting and legislative reform initiatives of the Ministry of Justice.
Working in close collaboration with the Judiciary, the Ministry of Justice and the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia, and other national and international stakeholders, the Division formulated a comprehensive programme of legal education and training courses. So far, the Division has provided training for 336 magistrates, 220 Justices of the Peace, 226 prosecutors, 146 Clerks of magisterial Courts, 45 Clerks of Circuit Courts and 1000 Immigration Officers. The Division continues to offer training to law enforcement officers, mainly members of the Liberian National Police to bolster their capacity in the area of investigations and prosecution. The Division is also engaged in seminars, meetings and workshops for the education and sensitization of the public on their rights and on legal reform initiatives, including the role of the traditional justice system and the importance of ensuring the supremacy of the rule of law.
The Division is currently supporting the Judiciary in the establishment of the Judicial Training Institute which would provide legal training for judicial officers including judges, magistrates, clerks of court and other personnel in the justice sector.
The Division continues to monitor and evaluate ongoing cases in the courts in Monrovia and in the counties. The Division's advisers and monitors are co-located in the Ministry of Justice and the Temple of Justice in Monrovia and collaborate with the prosecutorial unit of the Ministry by advising, assisting, monitoring and evaluating the investigations and the progress of cases as well as assisting in ensuring the observance of due process of law. The Division assists the courts and the Ministry of Justice in conducting reviews of the cases of the longer term detainees at the Monrovia Central Prison and the Police holding cells. This ongoing review process ensures that defendants whose cases are not tried before the lower courts within the mandatory 15-day deadline following arrest set by applicable law are brought before the relevant authorities for release. A Case Flow Management Committee was established to address the problem of pre-trial detainees who have been held for excessive periods. The Division has also been actively reviewing and conducting investigations into cases of juvenile detainees, working in close collaboration with the Juvenile Court, the Ministry of Justice and the Probation service, as a direct result of which a number of juveniles illegally detained in appalling and chronically overcrowded conditions, in relation to minor property offences, have been released from prison. The Division has also been working with the Judiciary in assessing the work of the mobile court system currently operating at the Monrovia Central Prison to alleviate overcrowding.
The Division continues ongoing mentoring of prosecutors by transferring expertise to them and by offering technical assistance required for the investigation and prosecution of some complex cases. It is developing a comprehensive mentoring policy, with priority areas, objectives and strategic actions for implementing a mentoring program for judges, prosecutors and lawyers.
The Division has assisted in the establishment of the Public Defender's Office in Montserrado County and continues to provide oversight of the work of the Montserrado County's Public Defenders as well as provide case management and advisory support. The Division is seeking to ensure that a Public Defender is always present at the Monrovia City Magistrates Court to guarantee that legal representation is provided to indigent defendants from the moment of first appearance at the Court. In this connection, the Division is collaborating with existing providers of legal aid and pro bono services. The provision of advisory and logistical support to both Public Defenders and legal aid providers represents a vital step in instituting and consolidating a coherent and effective legal aid system in Liberia. In addition, the Division has embarked upon a thorough review of the legal aid system in Liberia, to include detailed recommendations as to the additional support and funding required.