14th Judicial Circuit Court Reconstructed But Other Challenges to Judiciary Remain

CESTOS, River Cess – The building hosting the 14th Judicial Circuit Court in River Cess has been renovated, after previously being in a dilapidated condition that made it uninhabitable.

In December, The Bush Chicken had reported on how sheriffs would have to sweep water out of the building during rainy days when the court was in session. The building has now been reroofed with new wood and metal roofing sheets. The old hanging ceilings have all been replaced with new ones.

The record room of the court now has shelves where court files are kept. Prior to its reconstruction, Isaac Quay, the assistant clerk of court, said the court’s documents were moved to the office of the clerk of court while some were kept in a plastic bucket to prevent them from getting wet.

Conditions at the court prior to its renovation: Photo: Eric Opa Doue.

“I am more than happy that the court now looks like a court,” Quay said. “I know Judge [Onesmus] Banwon will do more than this.”

The assistant minister for administration at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ruth Sawmadal, former superintendent Wellington Geevon Smith, River Cess Senator Dallas Gueh, and the managing director of National Port Authority were among officials who attended the ceremony marking the opening of the February term of court.

During the program, which also featured an induction ceremony for the resident judge, Banwon said he had used his personal funds to renovate the court building. However, he has not yet disclosed the specific amount.

“For the love of our county, we were moved to use our personal funds for the reconstruction of the court,” Judge Banwon said. “Let me also thank the employees of the court for their voluntary contributions.”

Banwon was appointed the resident judge of River Cess by President George Weah in 2018 following the death of Judge Samuel Geevon Smith.

An employee of the court arranges files on a newly installed shelf. Photo: Eric Opa Doue.

The circuit court in River Cess is only one of several judicial buildings in the county that need to be renovated.

The debt court operates from a private living room. The room often becomes congested, dark, and poorly ventilated that Judge Peter G. Massey often uses battery lights during the day when the court is in session.

The court only occupies the living room while Massey and his family live in the rest of the building. He said he is constructing his own building at the back of the court.

In an interview with The Bush Chicken, Massey said while the building is not his, the land is. He said the court is leasing the building from the building’s owner, whom he has refused to name.

“The issue of infrastructure is a major problem here in Cestos,” Massey said. “There was no place for us to run this court when the first building we were using got damaged. This court was closed for six months before we got this house from the owner for lease.”

“This is challenging and we have made that a matter of concern, but the judiciary has its own problem,” Massey said. “Even today, if someone has a structure, we can move there.”

Inside the court. Photo: Eric Opa Doue.

Massey told The Bush Chicken that the government plans to construct a judicial annex but he did not say when the project will start.

Apart from the debt court, the Cestos Magisterial court is being operated in prefabricated containers left behind by UNMIL contingents in Cestos.

The court does not have manual typewriters let alone computers for record keeping. Instead, the clerk uses pen and paper to take records when the court is in session.

Featured photo by Eric Opa Doue

Eric Doue

Eric Opa Doue is a co-founder of Echo Radio Station, which does a series of programs in Bassa, Kru, and simple Liberian English. Under his leadership, Echo Radio was selected as one of the Moody Radio global partners for training opportunities in 2013 and 2014. Eric was one of a handful of reporters who received training from Internews in 2015 on humanitarian reporting during the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. He holds a diploma in Journalism, from the Ghana Institute of Journalism.

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