17 Apr 2007

Lawasia hopes for Fiji tribunal to examine post-coup judicial moves

2:00 pm on 17 April 2007

The regional law association, Lawasia, is confident that the interim administration in Fiji will set up a tribunal to look at the suspension of the Chief Justice, Daniel Fatiaki.

Anthony Gates has been the acting chief justice since a meeting of the Judicial Services Commission in January.

Lawasia sent an observer mission to Suva late last month and its report found that the rule of law may be compromised because of ongoing uncertainties and public perception that the judiciary is politicised and divided.

A member of the mission, Dr Gordon Hughes, a former president of the association, says they recommended the Tribunal as a pragmatic way forward:

"I think they were responsive to what we were saying. They indicated they were prepared to convene a tribunal hearing as soon as suitable appointments to the tribunal could be made and our emphasis in our report has been on ensuring those appointments are made without delay."

Dr Hughes says he believes it would be best to use judges on the tribunal from outside Fiji.

Meanwhile, two London lawyers say the meeting of the Judicial Services Commission which recommended the appointment of current acting chief Justice, Anthony Gates, was out of order.

The Fiji Times reports that James Dingemans, QC, and James Hawkins have given the advice in an opinion commissioned by the Commonwealth Lawyers Association.

They say the commission's meeting on January 15th this year was not properly constituted according to the Constitution, and the Doctrine of Necessity was incorrectly applied.

The lawyers say there are very few circumstances in which a meeting of the commission could be chaired by a member of the commission other than the chief justice.

The two lawyers say although the meeting of the Judicial Services Commission was to appoint an acting chief justice, the office of the chief justice was not vacant, nor was he absent from duty, or absent from Fiji or unable to perform his duty.

The London lawyers say the Constitution did not provide for Justice Nazhat Shameem to be part of such a meeting or to chair it and therefore the meeting was not properly constituted.

The January meeting appointed Justice Gates to act as chief justice while the incumbent, Justice Daniel Fatiaki, was suspended on the orders of President Iloilo.