Minister of Justice says Tonga's judicial system needs reforming
Tonga's Minister of Justice says the judicial system needs reforming but he is not sure that the King and his Law Lords will accept it.
An independent legal consultant was brought in by the Ministry of Justice in April to review the constitutional provisions relating to the judicial structure of Tonga.
The review found that the current system was unworkable and incompatible with the principles of constitutional monarchy and democracy.
Indira Moala reports.
A change to the Constitution in 2010 gave the King's Lord Chancellor control over the appointment of judges and overseeing the courts while the ministry controlled other aspects of the sector. In August, Parliament passed amendments to ensure the judiciary was independent of the Crown.But Tonga's Minister of Justice, Clive Edwards is concerned that the King will withhold assent.
CLIVE EDWARDS: What we have been wanting to do is to change the courts and give them larger jurisdiction and to hand down the work to the magistrates court like what New Zealand has done with their district court. And that has worked well. But to continue with the present system, it'll cause us problems in the future. But nothing can be done by the executive government because it has no say in the matter. That's determined solely by the panel and the Lord Chancellor. And that's the big problem we have.
The new legislation would abolish the Lord Chancellor and replaces the Judicial Appointments and Discipline Panel with a Judicial Services Commission instead. Consultant Peter Pursglove says the changes in 2010 took the judiciary backwards.
PETER PURSGLOVE: If we're operating under a democracy then the Minister of Justice who is accountable to Parliament, who is a member of the legislature, a member of the executive - he's the one who takes accountability. He should be the one in control. Not the Lord Chancellor and the Law Lords who are accountable to no one.
Mr Edwards says if the royal assent is not given, and the interim Lord Chancellor's position is made a permanent post, there will be big problems.
CLIVE EDWARDS: It makes a mockery of the system we have. That power and influence being exercised through the Privy council and because the same people in the Privy council - and we know who wants to be the Lord Chancellor from there. We don't want this system to be a permanent system because it's not workable. And furthermore, it's a farce. It's ridiculous.
Mr Pursglove says it's high time an attempt to tackle this problem was made.
PETER PURSGLOVE: It's pretty obvious that the system isn't working, it will only get worse and somebody has to bite the bullet and face reality and make the changes. And we just hope that the new bills that have been passed by the legislature, that they will receive royal assent, come into effect so that Tonga can go back to having a proper functioning Judiciary.
'Akilisi Pohiva, who heads the opposition says the People's Representatives are in full support of the amendments.
AKILISI POHIVA: We came to support all the amendments being made. It's good for everyone and I fully agree with that. His Majesty and His Law Lords, I don't think they are happy with this, with all these amendments but let's see how it goes.
Clive Edwards says if the Privy Council continues to try and exert control over the government the friction will get worse.
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