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Fiji: Chief Justice's comments disqualify him

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SUVA (Pasifik Nius): An independent Fiji democratic lobby group today condemned Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga for his comments about the 1997 constitution, saying should now disqualify himself from any Supreme Court appeal judgment on the issue.

Executive director Rev Akuila Yabaki of the Citizens' Constitutional Forum accused Tuivaga of making a "political judgment" on behalf of the Qarase government, which was ruled against in a Court of Appeal ruling on Friday.

"His statements sound exactly like those by [Prime Minister Laisenia] Qarase about the alleged unworkability of the constitution," Yabaki said.

"The chief justice is also flouting the Beijing statement of principles of the independence of the judiciary in the LAWASIA region, which he signed as Chief Justice of Fiji in 1995."

Tuivaga was quoted in the Sunday Post today as saying that he could not see any end to Fiji's constitutional wrangling until the constitution was reviewed.

The judge said the current document was too complicated and needed to be "simplified".

"I wish the country [could] move forward," he told the newspaper's reporter, Mithleshni Gurdayal.

"The 1997 constitution has to be looked into. This constitution is the cause of our problems - there is no question to it."

On Friday, the Court of Appeal declared that the Fiji Labour Party was constitutionally entitled under the power-sharing provisions to be represented in Qarase's cabinet after winning 38 percent of the parliamentary seats.

But Qarase said the ruling was "unrealistic" and declared that he would appeal against it in the Supreme Court.

Yabaki said in a statement today that the chief justice's comments also called into question whether he was able to invite anyone to sit on the Supreme Court on the constitutional issue because he had "prejudged its outcome" by saying the court would have to decide whether the constitution "suited" the country.

"How can the chief justice ask the Supreme Court to decide whether or not the constitution suits the country when the case is only about interpretation of some sections?"

Yabaka also claimed that the chief justice was undermining the draft code of ethics and conduct of judges of the High Court and magistrates in Fiji, which were adopted in March 2000.

Canon 7 of the draft code states:

"Judges and magistrates must disqualify themselves in matters or proceedings in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned."


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