Friday, March 23, 2012

Judicial Act ‘a vendetta’

The National, Friday 23rd March 2012
THE controversial Judicial Conduct Bill, rushed through by parliament two days ago, has been condemned as a vendetta by one of PNG’s leading constitutional lawyers and described by a political watcher as “a power grab”.
Another PNG lawyer suggested that following certain court decisions in the past year, the new act was not surprising as it would enable the government to regulate the conduct of judges.
In Australia, constitutional lawyers told a newspaper that the bill posed major changes that it should have taken three months to process.
On Wednesday, Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat tabled the bill, four members debated on it, and the house passed it 63-7 – all in less than 45 minutes.
Opposition leader Dame Carol’s complaint that more time was required to study it went ignored.
The act is retrospective to Nov 1 and would mean that Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia and Justice Nicholas Kirriwom will be disqualified from hearing the East Sepik reference against the government on April 2.
And Prof John Nonggorr, a respected constitutional lawyer, said this was the real purpose of the act pushed through by the O’Neill-Namah government.
He said the government was clearly using parliament to target Sir Salamo again, having failed to get the chief justice suspended because of a stay order.
He said legislative powers must be used in good faith and for the wider public good, not targeted at specific individuals as part of a vendetta or to settle scores.
“It is clear that the O’Neill-Namah government is using parliament to do these which is an abuse of the legislative powers,” he told The National.
He also expressed concern that Sir Salamo would not be accorded natural justice that everyone was entitled to.
He said the act had a limited application – it only applies where a judge refuses to disqualify himself when challenged to do so in a proceeding that is before him.
Parliament can then intervene and by a simple motion, the judge is suspended.
“Nothing more is required – no investigation, no hearing by an impartial body, nothing! Parliamentarians will become accusers, judges and executioners.
“The deputy chief justice will automatically become acting chief justice.”
Nongorr, who had also served as an adviser to the Electoral Commission, said in the short time that the O’Neill government had been in power, it had used parliament to enact laws in bad faith twice before.
“First, in amending the Prime Minister and NEC Act to override the Supreme Court’s decision reinstating the Somare regime as the legitimate government.
“Second, in targeting Sir Michael Somare by stating in the law that a person cannot be prime minister if he is over 72 years old.”
Nonggorr believed the lawyers who drafted the act know that the legislation was unconstitutional and would be declared so.
He also believed that the O’Neill government was unconcerned because its objective was short term.
“They do not want the chief justice to participate in the Supreme Court references which will be heard next month.”
Another respected lawyer, Peter Donigi, told The National that the act was clearly targeting the chief justice and Kirriwom.
“I had foreseen in December that any conflict between the judiciary and parliament would result in parliament using its powers under section 157 to regulate the conduct of judges,” he said.
The Melbourne Age quoted a veteran political watcher:  “This power grab is breathtaking in its breadth. It allows parliament to order a tribunal to be set up on a judge for any issue which the MPs consider biased.”

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