14 Aug 2013

Fiji contempt sentence is a clever one, says UK lawyer

7:31 pm on 14 August 2013

A UK lawyer at the centre of the Fiji government's latest contempt of court win says the sentence shows the light touch of oppression.

The Citizens' Constitutional Forum published a summary of Nigel Dodds' critical report on Fiji's legal system resulting in a fine for the prominent Fiji NGO and its chief, the Reverend Akuila Yabaki.

Reverend Yabaki also received a three-month jail sentence suspended for one year.

Nigel Dodds made a covert trip to Fiji nearly two years ago and his report was later slammed by the Fiji regime for not soliciting the government's views and information on Fiji's legal system.

Nigel Dodds told Sally Round there was no justification for bringing the proceedings in the first place.

NIGEL DODDS: The sentence is, of course, quite light in the sense that it's three months imprisonment suspended for one year. Superficially, that is quite an attractive sentence, given that there is a conviction. What it does is to prevent Reverend Yabaki and CCF from effectively speaking out on civil society issues for the next 12 months. This, of course, takes us up to the projected dates of the election. A major commentator of impeccable reputation is prevented from contributing to the debate on rule of law and other issues for the duration of the election - in effect, a rather grotesque restriction of freedom of speech.

SALLY ROUND: Do you think that he will be prevented from speaking out? Do you think that a suspended sentence will have that effect on someone like Reverend Yabaki?

NIGEL DODDS: Well, I don't know. It's up to Reverend Yabaki to speak for himself and CCF to speak for themselves. I don't know what the effect will be, but certainly they are imperilled by - certainly Reverend Yabaki is - they are imperilled by the decision. Quite clearly they're going to be in a situation where they have to make a judgement, in particular Reverend Yabaki, about whether he should speak out or go to prison. He's 71 years of age. That is a pretty strong incentive against speaking out.

SALLY ROUND: Now, the source of all this was your visit to Fiji, your report. They republished a summary of your report, which found serious holes in the legal system. All sorts of critical things were said about the Fiji judiciary. You were then invited back by the Fiji government to come and talk to them and so on. Whatever happened to that invitation and is that going to go ahead?

NIGEL DODDS: There was a very prompt response from the Law Society in England, and what we proposed was that I should go back, that it should be part of an independent international delegation. We suggested that the International Bar Association may be a good forum for that. The whole point of my visit to Fiji was that there had been a lack of independent scrutiny of rule of law issues there. The governments criticised my report for reasons that I was unable to see or concerned in the system. It seems to me that they would have been far better accepting the offer for an international delegation. The government, unfortunately, has declined that. I think it's most unfortunate. The government didn't feel able to submit its system and processes to international scrutiny.