12 Apr 2006

Rift in the Fiji judiciary surfaces again

3:39 pm on 12 April 2006

A high level rift in Fiji's judiciary over the role of some judges during the coup has surfaced again with Justice Nazhat Shameem intervening in a coup case that is to go to the Supreme Court.

Radio Fiji reports that Justice Shameem has filed an application to disqualify Justice Michael Scott from hearing an appeal in a coup case she dealt with in the High Court.

In that case Justice Shameem jailed the former deputy speaker of parliament, Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure, for six years for taking an illegal oath to commit a capital offence by being sworn into George Speight's failed administration.

The Appeal Court has already rejected Vakalalabure's appeal and he has now taken his case to the Supreme Court where Justice Scott is one of the three judges on the panel.

Justice Shameem's opposition to Justice Scott stems from his role as well as that of current chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki and former chief justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga in the drafting of decrees to abolish the constitution and giving legal advice during the coup.

Justice Shameem has applied to disqualify Justice Scott from hearing the case on the grounds that his hostility towards her is evidence of actual bias which, she says, deprives the Supreme Court of impartiality.

Her lawyer, Chen Bun Young, says Justice Shameem's application is based on a matter of principle, the issue being an independent and impartial tribunal, and not with the merits of the appeal.

Mr Young says the application is about preserving the rule of law in Fiji and maintaining an independent judiciary.