17 Apr 2007

Lawasia urges Fiji interim government to allow lawyers speak freely

3:31 pm on 17 April 2007

The regional law association, Lawasia, is urging Fiji's interim administration to allow the legal profession to speak openly about issues affecting the nation.

The Law Association of Asia and the Pacific sent an observer mission to Suva late last month.

In a report, the association also says the rule of law in Fiji may be compromised because of ongoing uncertainties over the position of the Chief Justice and public perceptions that the judiciary is politicised and divided.

A member of the mission, Dr Gordon Hughes, a former president of the association, says it is very important in any free society for lawyers to be able to speak about such issues without fear of intimidation by the military:

"The government, again in any free society is quite entitled to express a contrary view, to take issue with what lawyers are saying, what the legal profession is saying, what the media is saying, but there are appropriate ways of doing it and inappropriate ways of doing it."

Dr Hughes is confident that the interim administration in Fiji will set up a tribunal to look at the suspension of the Chief Justice, Daniel Fatiaki, as recommended by the association.

The acting chief justice, Anthony Gates, is being considered to act as the head of state when President Iloilo goes to Australia for a medical review next week.

Radio Legend reports that a number of legal options are being looked at after the Great Council of Chiefs rejected President Iloilo's nomination of Ratu Epeli Nailatikau to be appointed vice president.

The radio says Justice Gates remains the ideal option to be the acting president.

The solicitor general's office is analysing the option before forwarding its opinion the President's Office.

Fiji's Constitution says in the absence of the president and the vice president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives may perform the functions of the president.

But currently there is no parliament and no speaker.

Before Sitiveni Rabuka's military coups in 1987 turned Fiji into a republic, the then chief justice used to perform the functions of the governor general in his absence.