The National, Monday 26th March 2012
PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has defended the recently-passed Judicial Conduct Act, saying it will not weaken the judiciary.
Responding to public criticisms of the law rushed through parliament in a space of 24 hours last week, O’Neill said last night there was no sinister agenda behind it and that the government was not in a fight with the judiciary.
“There is nothing secretive and sinister about the new judicial conduct law,’’ he said.
“This law will not weaken and erode the independence of the judiciary.”
“It is not a law that erodes the fundamental principles of democracy nor does it compromise the separation of powers between the legislature,
the executive and the judiciary,” O’Neill said.
“The new law was aimed at defining and imposing clarity on judicial beha­viour that the wider community or affected parties in lawsuits may consider or perceive as biased.”
He said the law was not draconian and did not erode the impartiality of the judges.
He pointed out that Australia, India, Canada and other Commonwealth nations had similar legislation or ethical standards to scrutinise judicial conduct and behaviour.
He said the march last Friday by University of Papua New Guinea students to protest against the new legislation as “acting in the public interest”.
“It is true a new law was made by parliament to give legislative teeth to administer any instances of perceived or real judicial bias, where judges continue to hear cases that have serious conflicts of interest,” O’Neill said.
“It was done for the sake of clarity and to better define and strengthen the role and conduct of National and Supreme Court judges.”
He said the law was not a “knee-jerk legislation” and was not designed to remove certain members of the judiciary from office.
But he said judges, such as any public servant, should be disciplined if there was “reasonable evidence of ethical and professional lapse in their conduct and in the
carriage of their duties and responsibilities”.
The bill was introduced last Tuesday and passed by a 63-7 vote after three readings the following day.
It gave parliament the power to refer a judge to the governor-general who, in turn, must appoint a tribunal to investigate the judge who would be suspended from duty.