Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Fiji bans meeting of legal experts

The Australian

QUEENSLAND Supreme Court judge Roslyn Atkinson and a party of international legal experts have been barred from entering Fiji amid growing concern about the legality of the interim Government's actions.

Justice Atkinson had been due to fly to Fiji this week as part of an International Bar Association delegation that had planned to assess the state of the rule of law under the country's interim Government.

But the delegation, which also included Malaysian Bar Council member Roger Tan, has been banned because the Fiji Government says its presence could affect litigation under way in that country.

Fiji Law Society president Isireli Fa said yesterday he believed the real reason for the ban was to prevent international scrutiny of the way the interim Government had been dealing with the country's courts and legal system.

Justice Atkinson said she was very surprised by the attitude of the Fijian Government. "I hope that they reconsider and allow the visit of the IBA to proceed in the interests of openness and accountability," she said.

The incident, which was condemned yesterday by Australian Bar Association president Tom Bathurst QC, coincides with a series of challenges to the actions of the interim Government, which seized power in a military takeover in 2006.

Mr Fa said the interim Government had convened a tribunal and asked it to investigate accusations against Fiji's suspended chief judge Daniel Fatiaki. That tribunal adjourned last week to permit Chief Justice Fatiaki to take separate proceedings to determine the tribunal's jurisdiction.

The Fiji Law Society is running a constitutional challenge to the appointment of judges by the interim Government; and the deposed prime minister Laisenia Qarase is challenging the legality of the 2006 military takeover.

Mr Fa said the Fiji Law Society called on the Australian legal profession and the Australian Government to help it overturn the ban on the IBA delegation.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said in a statement last night: "Australia continues to urge the regime to return Fiji to democracy and the rule of law."

Australian Bar Association president Tom Bathurst QC said his organisation condemned the ban on the IBA delegation.

The ban was imposed after correspondence in which Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum told the IBA on February 3: "You are not welcome in Fiji at this time."

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