By Socrates-Smythe Sawywon
The Supreme Court of Liberia few hours ago ruled on a contentious case brought before the Court by Mr. Harrison Karnwea against the National Election Commission after the election rejected his nomination for being in Violation of the National Code of Conduct.
Delivering the Court’s ruling, Justice Philip A. Z. Banks, III, said Karnwea’s violation was not grave it’s the opinion of the Supreme Court that Karnwea’s violation of the of the Code of Conduct was not as grievous as alleged by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Cllr. Banks added that the National Elections Commission (NEC) should have given Karnwea a less penalty than disbarment. The Justices of the Court acknowledged that Karnwea violated Section 5.1 of the contentious Code of Conduct (CoC) by holding a press conference on March 14 while serving as Managing Director of the Forestry Development Agency (FDA).
He announced his resignation from the ruling party and officially joined the Liberty Party. However, they opined that his punishment should have been those spelt out in Section 5.9 of the CoC. But the Supreme Court observed that the National Elections Commission did not exercise due process before disbarring Karnwea from contesting as vice president on the ticket of the Liberty Party.
“Everyone must be given an opportunity to be heard, the level of penalty should be done after the adjudication. We wonder how the NEC made the determination without conducting investigation,” Justice Banks noted. According to them, they disagree how the records were handled by the NEC, observing that “There is no record filed by NEC lawyers and everyone should be must be given due process. No one should be personally bound until he/she a day in court.” “NEC made serious error in that the rejection was single handedly signed by the Chairman instead of everyone on the board of commissioners.
Further reading from the opinion, Justice Banks said NEC was in grave breach of the Constitution and the election law by rejecting Karnwea without due process. “Due process is mandatory and must be accepted by all legal institutions and it’s a requirement,” Justice Banks said. The Supreme Court reversed the NEC decision to reject Karnwea as running mate of Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine, noting that he was in substantial compliance. “He resigned says after the Code of Conduct was declared constitutional. His conduct of not resigning two years earlier is in violation, we don’t believe that the action is egregious in nature.” The Supreme Court has therefore asked the NEC to serve Karnwea and the Liberty Party a notice of withdrawal of the rejection within 48 hours. The withdrawal notice must be signed by all the commissioners, the Court ordered.
The NEC has also been mandated to revisit Karnwea’s case and conduct investigation and hearing in the spirit of due process and apply punishments enshrined in the Section 5.9 of the Code of Conduct instead of disbarment. The Supreme Court opinion was greeted with wild jubilation from Liberty Party supporters who gathered in the premises of the Temple of Justice. Their huge presence prompted unusual deployment of Police Support Unit of the Liberia National Police to the premises of the Temple of Justice.