Fiji’s new Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki has made repeated extra-judicial statements recently to say he sees no reason why he should give priority to the multi-party cabinet case filed by the Fiji Labour Party against Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase.
Labour has questioned the CJ’s stance on this. In a letter to the CJ this week, FLP Leader Mahendra Chaudhry again protested delays in hearing the case and has urged the CJ to expedite the matter. We print below the full text of Chaudhry’s letter to the CJ:
“I write following our discussion of last month on the above subject. I raised the Fiji Labour Party’s concern about the Judiciary’s failure to have judges appointed to the Supreme Court to hear Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase’s appeal against the decision of the Fiji Court of Appeal and the Orders issued by the Lautoka High Court on the multi-party cabinet case (CBV 0040/2002).
Your response was that the problem arose because of your predecessor’s practice of appointing Supreme Court judges on an ad hoc basis to hear specifically designated cases, i.e., the case on appointments to the Senate under Section 64 of the Constitution and the Prem Singh case, arising from a decision of the Court of Disputed Returns.
In the course of our discussions, you pointed out that there were a number of other appeal cases pending from before and that these will have to be disposed of as well. You agreed, however, that the multi-party cabinet case was a matter of significant constitutional importance to the nation and should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
You then went on to describe the difficulties faced in recruiting judges to the Supreme Court and expressed the view that you were making an effort to include Canada as one of the countries aside from Australia and New Zealand from which to recruit senior judges to the Supreme Court.
You also pointed out that you preferred to have judges appointed for a fixed term rather than on ad hoc basis.
I came back satisfied from our meeting that you were serious about having the Supreme Court in place fairly soon.
It seems I was mistaken because your subsequent utterances suggest that you are in no hurry to constitute the court to finalise the multi-party cabinet case. Your assertion (made in public) that this case is no more important than the other pending civil and criminal cases is preposterous, to say the least. I would have expected better discretion from the holder of a high office such as yours. Many in the legal fraternity and indeed a number of other prominent citizens have questioned your statement.
It is now over seven months since the Fiji Court of Appeal (FCA) ruled the Qarase government unconstitutional and pronounced that the Prime Minister must include members of the Fiji Labour Party in his cabinet (Section 99 of the Constitution). The Lautoka High Court made the necessary orders to the effect in May 2002 i.e., some four months ago. Yet, we do not have a court assembled to hear the appeal the Prime Minister says he has filed against the FCA ruling and the Orders issued by the Lautoka High Court.
In between these dates, two sittings of the Supreme Court (constituted ad hoc) took place to decide two other constitutional issues. Why then, may I ask, is the multi-party cabinet case being put on the back burner?
Mr Chief Justice, the judiciary must ensure that constitutional cases referred to it are given utmost priority, particularly where it is an appeal from the decision of an appellate court, pronouncing the government of the day to be unconstitutional. Such pronouncement has grave implications in so far as matters related to the administration of the State are concerned and must be dealt with expeditiously.
While we acknowledge the Prime Minister’s right of appeal to the Supreme Court, we must point out that we also have the right under s 29 of the Constitution to have our case – on which the lower courts have consistently ruled in our favour – determined within a reasonable time.
It appears that the reason the Supreme Court cannot sit is because you prefer to constitute it in a different way to your predecessor.
With respect, if you are unable to achieve this, then you should go back to the previous successful method of constituting it. Justice to our citizens ought not be denied simply on account of your personal preferences not being met. The Supreme Court is a creature of the Constitution with important functions to perform. You are a servant of the Constitution and you are charged with ensuring that the Supreme Court is made to work efficiently in the interests of Fiji citizens.
Whatever has happened to that old dictum: Justice delayed is justice denied?
In light of the above, we urge you to move with due urgency in constituting the Supreme Court to hear the multi-party Cabinet case.