“It is utterly wrong for public defenders to charge fees for representation,” Justice Korkpor added, noting that “this program is intended to benefit the poor and vulnerable people in society who cannot afford the costs of lawsuit.”
“However, not all criminal defendants are poor and cannot find counsels of their choice; thus unless a criminal defendant wants a public defender to represent him or her there is no reason for a public defender to be in that case,” the Liberian Chief Justice pointed out.
Justice Korkpor made the statement at the weekend at the Temple of Justice when he administered the oath of office at the induction ceremony of officers of the National Association of Public Defenders of Liberia (NAPDOL).
He also observed that some public defenders are attached to private law firms, noting that this is wrong because public defenders are fulltime employees of government, just like judges and other judicial staff.
“It is a conflict of interest for you to use your time on duty for other gainful activities,” he cautioned the public defenders.
The Chief Justice, however, noted: “We are aware that the public defenders program is grossly understaffed; we began the program in 2009 with public defenders deployed to judicial circuits across the country; since then we have deployed one additional public defender to the security hub counties, comprising Bong, Lofa, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Sinoe, Grand Kru and Maryland.”
Justice Korkpor also pointed out that in Montserrado County there are five criminal assizes in addition to the magistrate sitting program at the Monrovia Central Prison to which a public defender is also assigned, adding, “we have a total of six public defenders; in all there are thirty public defenders in the country.”