June 10, 2007

Speaking truth to power

Six months after the military decided it knew best about how to run this country, it’s done a pretty good job of trying to shut up critics. It reached a farcical high point between March (the beginning of the hunt for Intelligentsiya) and May (during the hunt for fellow Freedom Blogger, FijianBlack).

Thankfully not everybody is afraid to peacefully speak their minds - and not everyone minds being hunted by the military over their opinions.

In case you haven’t noticed, several other blogs have joined the ranks of the Fiji Freedom bloggers. There’s what we think to be the first dedicated Fijian language blog called i Taukei and Très Désabusé. In Très Désabusé's words: "To say that there must be no criticism of this unelected interim group of sycophants, or that we are to stand by them, right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the Fijian public." Keep the discussion going people.

Lawyer Graham Leung is one of those few people who are not afraid of telling it like it is, as Très Désabusé has already pointed out.

His speech at the 20th Biennial LawAsia Conference in Hong Kong on Friday, June 8 lays bare the division within the legal fraternity and dangerous ground the judiciary is now treading in being complicit with the military junta.

Read Leung's speech on the Fiji Times’ website here.

Precluding Leung's speech, an episode in a rather tiny courtroom of the High Court in Suva on Wednesday morning observed by the diplomatic corp illustrates the suspicion that the interim regime is "pressuring" the judiciary or that parts of the judiciary itself are complicit.

In that case, Dr John Cameron, another lawyer unafraid to speak his mind, told Justice Jiten Singh's court that this "illegal regime has no intention of having its illegal acts scrutinised by the courts".

An Australian with decades of experience on the Fiji Bar, Dr Cameron was representing Angie Heffernan, who as (now replaced) executive director of the Pacific Centre for Public Integrity, is seeking constitutional redress for being threatened by the military for her criticism.

Dr Cameron was reacting to a last-minute order obtained under questionable circumstances by the interim regime to halt the case which was to be heard from Wednesday. He questioned the urgency with which the order was made - during off-court hours just one working day away from the main hearing to begin on Wednesday morning.

Justice John Byrne, a High Court judge who was recently appointed to the bench of the Court of Appeal, granted the order at 4.30pm on Monday. Dr Cameron also questioned the propriety of Justice Byrnes ruling on the application by the Attorney-General, when his appointment to the Appeals Court, like the appointment of acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates, would be challenged in a case brought by the Fiji Law Society on June 28.

Justice Jiten Singh who is presiding over the case expressed surprise himself that he didn't hear about the order until the morning of the case. And Dr Cameron asked Justice Singh to summon the Attorney-General to court to explain why he should not pay the plaintiff cost out of his own pocket for deliberately delaying the case.

But the lawyer representing the Attorney-General monotonously insisted that since an order from a higher court had been made to stop the hearing, the application could not be heard. Dr Cameron and Justice Singh, though annoyed and irritated at the delay, agreed that nothing could be done until the full Court of Appeal is petitioned to set aside Justice Byrne's order.

On Thursday, Justice Byrne was visibly angry (almost quivering with rage) when approached by Fiji TV reporter Sainimili Finiasi questioning him on the order he made. He said judges could not comment on their own decisions and when he was asked about whether he had been properly appointed to the Court of Appeal, he replied, "It's in the Constitution."

Acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates evaded speaking to the camera referring Finiasi to a written response to questions she sent him before being whisked away in his "official" vehicle.

Ousted Vice President, respected lawyer and chief Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi also spoke of the weakening of the rule of law following the military coup (on Fiji Times's site).

That episode earlier in the week illustrates the sort of legal division Leung referred to in his speech. And its not just amongst the lawyers. The judges who are willingly helping the interim regime seem are also on the defensive.


Anonymous said...

Interim AG calls on Justice Ward to resign

Sunday June 10, 2007

Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum

Fiji’s Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has called on the President of the Fiji Court of Appeal Justice Gordon Ward to resign.

In a statement Sayed-Khaiyum claims Justice Ward supported (lawyer) Graham Leung and wrote a letter to LAWASIA questioning as to why its president Mah Weng Kwai had taken the post of commissioner on at the Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Sayed-Khaiyum said Justice Ward should immediately hand in his resignation and save "our judiciary and our nation at large from the onslaught waged by those such as him, Leung and other of their ilk."

He added it is a grave concern and Justice Ward has completely compromised his position, that of an independent judge.

"All these matters are before the courts and a senior judge making such pronouncements indicates that he is not independent, is partisan and clearly unfit to hear any such matters or matters that concern the Government, FICAC and indeed other members of the judiciary."

Sayed-Khaiyum added that his pronouncements as a senior judge will in all likelihood have an impact on the legal interpretations and actions of judges of the High Court and the Magistracy.

"It places our judiciary as a whole in an invidious position.

"Such actions of senior members of the judiciary as demonstrated through the 2000 experience invariably tend to cause a major damage to the independence of the judiciary," he said.

The Interim AG added that it is also of grave concern that he (Justice Ward) has brought the July session of the Fiji Court of Appeal forward given, "what can only be now termed as his very public political and legal leanings, in particular when two of the appeal matters which were to be heard in July session involve the Acting Chief Justice and a former Prime Minister and Commander of the RFMF."

According to Sayed-Khaiyum, on May 30 Justice Ward wrote to LAWASIA on the letter head of the Court of Appeal questioning as to why Mah had taken the position.

"In his letter amongst other things he stated that the events of December 5 was a ‘coup’, that our ‘President has no power to make laws’ and consequently made judgments about FICAC," he said.

Mah has confirmed that he will tender his resignation as commissioner of FICAC to the President Ratu Josefa Iloilo tomorrow.

Justice Ward and Leung are unavailable for comments


Anonymous said...

A National Day For Prayer. Say a prayer for Fiji tomorrow citizens.Thursday, June 14. I will be at Sukuna Park @ 1: p.m wearing black. Before you break for lunch, wherever you are say a prayer for all the suffering and hardship people are going through today, those without jobs, those without food and children who cannot go to school. Those who have lost loved ones, lets pray for them. Sa cakacaka tiko na vu ni ca e Viti. Meda masulaki na noda Viti lomani. Kemuni na noda mai vavalagi, please say a prayer at the appointed hour. If you can go without food on that day and break after your prayers, believe that there is power in prayer, then let God do the talking after that. Pass this message around.
God Bless Fiji.