Public confidence in Liberia’s courts is about to experience a boost, as more than 60 new magistrates—all trained with the help of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI)—are slated to take up their posts in the coming months. Most of the new magistrates are appointed to the country’s outlying regions where citizen interaction with the judicial system can be limited. Despite public perception, the new magistrates are optimistic in the face of the challenges ahead of them.
“I want to make [local citizens] believe that they can trust the court again,” says Associate Magistrate Jawollay Reed, who will serve in Bomi County, “I know that all of us … are ready to be a driving force for change in Liberia.”
Most of Liberia’s current magistrates have neither formal legal education nor training in how to execute their magisterial duties. This limits public confidence in the courts, and as a result, many citizens prefer to settle disputes through traditional means that are not legally binding. With many sitting magistrates scheduled to retire in the coming years, the Liberian judiciary and other stakeholders saw an opportunity to engage in a long-term overhaul of the magistracy.
ABA ROLI provided direct support to the Liberian judiciary and the judicial institute as they developed the curriculum for the Professional Magistrates Training Program (PMTP). The 15-month program, offered at the James A.A. Pierre Judicial Institute, was designed prepare college graduates to serve as magistrates and to administer justice at Liberia’s courts of first instance. The program is supported thought a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The first group of trainees were selected after an open, competitive examination and interviews. The program employed an array of teaching methods, including daily classroom instruction, group assignments, courtroom observations, moot court exercises and special lectures, with many featuring sitting magistrates as trainers. Magistrate Reed praises her educational experience, citing her field visits to the magisterial court as a benchmark.
“[On my first visit], I couldn’t understand anything,” Reed says, “But by our second trip to court, [I] could identify errors in procedure by the lawyers in the courtroom …the program really prepared us for our roles.”
Magistrate Reed was one of three female graduates, and their appointments significantly increased female representation in the Liberian judiciary. According to the Liberian National Trial Judges Association, prior to the recent appointments, only five of the approximately 300 magisterial positions in the country were held by women.
This fact is not lost on Magistrate Florence Jusufu, another PMTP graduate, who hopes to be a role model for other women and says she was inspired by the Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was recently selected as a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
“The [Liberian] president serves as motivation for a lot of women,” Jusufu says, “Women can make great impact wherever they sit and have great potential, but [we] need a push.”
Despite the challenges associated with her new post, which include temporarily splitting her family between Monrovia and Margibi County in central Liberia, Jusufu is committed to her new profession. When asked if she would sign up for the program now, knowing about the conditions and challenges she faces, she smiles and responds, “I will do it again, and again.”
To learn more about our work in Liberia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected] .