18 Apr 2009

Decree paves way for new Fiji judiciary

8:11 am on 18 April 2009

A presidential decree has been issued in Fiji to pave the way for the appointment of new judges following the sacking of the judiciary last weekend.

President Ratu Josefa Iloilo revoked the 1997 constitution, sacked the judiciary and appointed himself head of state.

The president also reappointed military leader Frank Bainimarama as interim prime minister last Saturday, less than two days after the Court of Appeal ruled his 2006 coup and subsequent government illegal.

Fjii has been placed under emergency rule and Commodore Bainimarama has tightened media censorship and continued to refuse to hold elections before 2014.

The decree on Friday establishes a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and other courts. It gives the President Iloilo power to appoint judges and magistrates.

Fiji's interim attorney-general Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says a number of people are interested in the jobs and he hopes the first judges will be appointed on Monday.

He says he does not know if any have been deterred by the actions of the reinstated government.

"I don't know the specific preferences of individuals, but I can tell you there have been individuals who have expressed interest in joining the bench."

NZ judiciary jobs in Fiji uncertain

It is unclear whether two New Zealand lawyers working for the judiciary in Fiji still hold their jobs.

No New Zealanders were among the 13 judges sacked last week. But until then, Fiji's Solicitor-General was former Christchurch lawyer Christopher Pryde, while Geraldine Ryan was Deputy State Solicitor.

The Fiji Law Society believes that, under the document ordering the sacking of the judiciary, they would have been removed from their positions. The media office for Mr Pryde and Ms Ryan is refusing to comment on whether they have lost their jobs.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's Law Society is urging New Zealand lawyers and judges not to not take up jobs under the military regime.

Law Society president John Marshall, QC, says the society's view is that the sacking of judges was illegal, and though it cannot stop lawyers taking up jobs in Fiji, it believes New Zealanders should avoid working for the regime.

Vice-president sworn in

A minister in the Fiji interim government was sworn in as vice-president on Friday. Ratu Epeli Nailatikau's appointment was made under the eighth decree by President Iloilo.

The vice-presidency had been vacant since the 2006 coup when the military removed Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi.

Ratu Epeli has been the Indigenous Affairs Minister and is a former military commander and former parliamentary speaker.

Under the constitution, the body to appoint the president and vice-president is the great Council of Chiefs.

The council had been suspended before the constitution was revoked, as it had refused to approve Commodore Bainimarama's post-coup claim that he was the president.

Crisis hits struggling economy

The worsening political situation has prompted a further lowering of the country's international credit rating.

Standard & Poor's cut Fiji's long-term rating to B-minus from B and its short-term rating to C from B, due to "Fiji's deteriorating political environment".

Standard & Poor's said the postponement of elections until 2014 is likely to delay the resumption of improved relations with neighbouring countries and key regional groupings.

On Wednesday, the military government devalued the Fiji dollar by 20%, in an effort to boost tourism and help exporters. A day earlier, the central bank imposed tight exchange controls to protect dwindling foreign reserves.

The agency said reserves may fall further because of the intensifying political pressures and recent floods which have harmed Fiji's key earners of foreign exchange, tourism and sugar.