Liberia: Court Trashes Sen. Dillon’s Petition to Have Slander and Libel Case Dismissed
Monrovia — Judge Kennedy Peabody of the Civil Law Court at the Temple of Justice on Wednesday denied Senator Abraham Darius Dillon’s motion to quash the legal proceedings against him. According to the judge, his request does not apply to the case.
Dillon is being tried for “Action of Damage for Wrong for Libel and Slander by Attachment,” filed by Liberty Party Embattled Chairman Musa Hassan Bility.
Bility, through his lawsuit, alleged that Senator Dillon called him “a criminal” which he said is an assassination of his character.
But Dillon through his defense team filed a motion to quash the lawsuit against him, on grounds that it undermines the function of members of the National Legislature.
In his motion, Senator Dillon contended that Article 42 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia provides that members of the Legislature shall be privileged from arrest, while attending, going to, or returning from a session of the Legislature, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace.
Citing Section 31 of the Legislative Law, the movant also said: “no judge or magistrate or justice of the peace or officer who administers the law shall issue or cause to be issued any writ of attachment or another legal precept against any member of the legislature or the member of his family living in his household or his servant or clearest staff during the session, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.”
The court in its ruling noted that even though the Constitution requires that Legislators who meet its requirement may not be arrested or held for slander and libel, Article 42 as well as the history surrounding the inclusion of the Immunity Clause, members of the Legislature may be excluded from prosecution while performing in line with their legislative duty or function.
According to the court, the only way the legislature can enjoy the Immunity Clause is, if what he is accused of falls within the line of his legislative duty.
“The framers of the constitution would not have given a blanket immunity to the Legislature, that is to say, for a legislature, hi staff and family members to commit private wrong to a citizen and go with impunity,” Judge Peabody noted in his ruling.
Accordingly, although the Immunity clause bars action against legislatures doing legislative functions, such does not bar action against a legislature who commits tort to go with impunity and hide behind the construction and the act governing the Legislature.
Judge Peabody maintained that there is no indication that Article 42 of the Constitution was intended to foreclose the judiciary from entertaining suits involving private wrongs done by a legislature.
Judge Peabody further noted that the motion could therefore entail a potentially embarrassing confrontation between coordinated branches of government since the system of government in the country requires the court on occasion to interpret the Constitution differently from other branches.
At the same time, the court noted that: “no imperative of off e requires that a member of the legislature while acting outside the scope of his legislative duties, be free to reach out with impunity when the right of other citizens are involved.”
“This privilege does not immune a legislature from suits and arrest for acts personally done away from legislative functions and duties.”
Given his argument, Judge Peabody noted that Movant’s motion to quash should be and same hereby denied and dismissed for the reasons stated above.
Meanwhile, for the writ of attachment, the court said it has no legal reason for issuing the Writ of Attachment.