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Australian lawyers riled over Fiji lawlessness

Australian lawyers riled over Fiji lawlessness

The rule of law in Fiji is under threat after its interim president terminated a Court of Appeal ruling, the international body representing Australian barristers, judges and lawyers says.

THE rule of law in Fiji is under threat after its interim president terminated a Court of Appeal ruling, the international body representing Australian barristers, judges and lawyers says. 

The president of the Australian Bar Association, Tom Bathurst QC, yesterday condemned the lawlessness in Fiji, claiming the latest attempts by the military government in Fiji to "usurp the rue of law" are "deeply concerning". 

Fiji's interim Prime Minister, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, issued a certificate in recent weeks terminating the court of appeal ruling that declared his regime was illegal.

"By an executive act they have terminated regularly constituted judicial proceedings," Bathurst told The New Lawyer.

"That means that one of the essential prerequisites of the rule of law, an independent judiciary that can properly function, is just eliminated."

Bainimarama justified his dismissal of the court of appeal ruling, saying the ruling was not in the People's Charter, whose key principle was to uphold the constitution.

Fiji has been operating under a state of emergency since April, when Frank Bainimarama abrogated the constitution, sacked the judiciary and heavily censored the media.

"The difficulty is that [when] you have a country that has no legitimate mandate, the normal checks and balances in relation to those governments. The temptation is to throw [an unelected government] out the window," said Bathurst.

"This type of rule is inimical to the rule of law as we understand it."

Speaking only hours before the release of an Amnesty International report yesterday condemning human right abuses in Fiji, Bathurst said he feared Fiji's lack of constitutional law and an independent judiciary could lead to flagrant abuses of human rights‚.

"My view is that human rights include an ability to participate in a society where there is a democratic process and an independent judiciary. In other words, where there is a rule of law."

"It is the absence of those things that can lead to a flagrant abuse of human rights. And I am not suggesting that has occurred at the present time, but it is the scene for the type of thing, which is what concerns me the most."

The Amnesty International report, Fiji - Paradise Lost, claims to document the "pattern of government interference in the judiciary, severe censorship of the media and the harassment and arrests of government critics" based on 80 interviews conducted in Fiji during April.

"Ever since January 2007 the military led government or personnel have been interfering with the judiciary," author of the report, Apolosi Bose told Radio Australia.

"We document some of the ways the military people have openly challenged the authority of the courts in the Fiji and it is a very worrying trend that continues to happen."

Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth group of nations last week when it failed to meet last month's deadline to set an election date for next year.

Bainimarama has delayed elections until 2014.

The suspension will mean Fiji cannot participate in 2010 Commonwealth Games and technical assistance will be withheld. The country has already been banned from Commonwealth ministerial meetings and the Pacific Island Forum.

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Australian lawyers riled over Fiji lawlessness
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