20 Feb 2004

Fiji state lawyers considering whether Chaudhry coments may be in contempt of court

4:30 pm on 20 February 2004

State lawyers in Fiji are reported to be studying comments made by the Fiji Labour Party leader, Mahendra Chaudhry, criticising sentences handed down on coup convicts, as "too lenient".

Fiji radio station LEGEND says this has been confirmed by the chief registrar of the Supreme Court.

Musuka Tabete says legal counsel are assessing Mr Chaudhry's comments before deciding on what action they will take.

The action follows a call by the junior partner in Fiji's coalition government, the pro-coup Conservative Alliance Matanitu Vanua, for the immediate arrest of Mr Chaudhry for contempt of court.

Three coup convicts were released two days ago after serving sentences for their involvement in the May 2000 coup.

Meanwhile.

A Fiji constitutional lawyer, Richard Naidu, says he doubts whether Mahendra Chaudhry is in contempt.

Mr Naidu says there's always a fine line between what is simply exercising your rights of free expression as a citizen and undermining the authority of the courts...

"Undermining the authority of the courts, as in most countries, is contempt but the exercise of free speech isn't,.....personally on what has occurred in Fiji before, criticising the sentences imposed by judges on criminals is a matter that is freely available to be commented on by citizens of Fiji so I very much doubt whether this would fall into the category of contempt of court."

Fiji lawyer Richard Naidu