Fijian lawyers will see their practising certificates expire well in advance of their usual February cut-off date, after a decree was released by the Fijian Government yesterday to ban the Fiji Law Society issuing the certificates.
Instead of going through the Law Society, Fijian lawyers will now need to reapply to the Chief Registrar of the High Court, Ana Rokomokoti, for new certificates by 15 June in order to meet a 30 June expiration deadline.
At a press conference in Fiji on Monday, Fijian Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said that certificates would be issued on 1 July and remain valid until February 2010, before then being issued on an annual basis.
Sayed-Khaiyum said the Fiji Law Society would continue to exist, but that membership to the Law Society would be on a voluntary basis only.
In Australia, concern was expressed by the Law Council in a statement following the announcement, citing fears for the independence of the legal profession in Fiji. The Law Council is particularly concerned that the power to issue practicing certificates would effectively rest with a government employee, by being placed in the hands of the Chief Registrar of the Court.
Law Council president John Corcoran said: "I am concerned that this could be the first step in the Fiji Government's attempts to control the country's legal profession by not allowing lawyers who oppose the regime to practise law."
Sayed-Khaiyum told Radio National that the government-issued decree will also see a Legal Services Commission created, as well as "new and spelt out definitions of professional or unsatisfactory professional conduct". He said the Law Society had lost its provision to hear disciplinary matters, with complaints to now be lodged with the Chief Registrar instead.
The Fiji Club of New Zealand issued a statement on Tuesday declaring the new rules a good move, because "no one professional body in any country should have the monopoly to control their patch as the consumers and taxpayers end up paying heaps and heaps for their services".
Corcoran, however, noted the fact that the Fijian Government had taken the measure without consulting the Fiji Law Society, or Fiji's legal profession.
"Without an independent legal profession, a vital ingredient in upholding the rule of law in Fiji would be missing," he said.