Reports of the recent dismissal of five Fijian magistrates without notice has the New Zealand Law Society gravely concerned that the country’s military rulers are undermining the independence of the judiciary.
Law Society president Jonathan Temm said it had been advised of the dismissals which included one magistrate who questioned the propriety of a prosecution by the Fijian government agency Independent Commission against Corruption.
Mr Temm says the prosecution was against a human rights lawyer and her husband and involved charges alleging breaches of the law related to Suva City Council misdemeanours, along with a charge of fraud.
“It appears that a government agency – which was purportedly established to fight corruption – is being used in a manner inconsistent with its statutory purpose. The effective dismissal of judicial officers attacks the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
“Of most concern is those judicial officers apparently dismissed for rejecting prosecution cases brought by the military government or its agencies.”
Mr Temm said a Law and Justice report issued by the Citizens Constitutional Forum organisation found that 40 judicial officers were dismissed in the year to April 2010, in addition to the five recently dismissed magistrates.
“The Fiji Law Society has bravely condemned the dismissal of Fijian magistrates and public prosecutors and says that Fiji’s judiciary is effectively no longer independent,” he said.
The rule of law is under attack in Fiji and this should be a significant concern to the people and government of New Zealand, Mr Temm said.
Last week Fiji expelled Australian envoy Sarah Roberts for what it said was meddling in the country’s internal affairs after Australia had lobbied for a Melanesian summit in Fiji to be postponed.
The summit was cancelled by organisers who cited concerns about democracy and “good governance” since the 2006 military coup.
Roberts is the second senior Australian diplomat to be expelled from Fiji in less than a year after the high commissioner and his New Zealand counterpart were removed last November over alleged interference in Fiji’s judiciary.