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SUVA, Fiji Islands (July 25, 2002 – Radio New Zealand International)---Controversial Fiji High Court judge, Justice Daniel Fatiaki, has been appointed the country’s new chief justice.

Justice Fatiaki will succeed Sir Timoci Tuivaga, who retires at the end of this month.

In accordance with constitutional procedures, the president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, made the appointment on the advice of the prime minister, after Laisenia Qarase had consulted opposition leader Prem Singh.

The move is expected to generate some controversy in the country because of Justice Fatiaki’s role along with Justice Michael Scott and the present chief justice in giving legal advice to the president after the May 2000 coup.

There were calls for the resignations of all three because of this.

Justice Fatiaki was forced to step down from hearing a coup-related case last year.

In making the appointment, a statement from the president’s office says he has no doubt that Justice Fatiaki will serve as chief justice with the same high standard of competency and integrity as Sir Timoci.

Earlier reports had suggested that a new chief justice would be sought overseas because of the controversy surrounding the judiciary.

Fiji’s NGO Coalition on Human Rights has strongly criticized the appointment

The coalition is objecting to Justice Fatiaki’s appointment because of his role in giving advice to the president after the May 2000 coup, which supported the purported abrogation of the 1997 Constitution and the abolition of the Supreme Court.

The coalition’s chair, the Rev. Akuila Yabaki, says the Fiji judiciary needs a chief justice who is not controversial, is independent of the two factions in the judiciary and is able to restore its reputation and solidarity.

The Rev. Yabaki says Justice Fatiaki is not that person because he is politically controversial, like the retiring chief justice, Sir Timoci Tuivaga.

The opposition leader, Prem Singh, has revealed that he had not supported Justice Fatiaki’s appointment when the prime minister, Laisenia Qarase, consulted him as required by the constitution.

Mr. Singh says he expressed his reservations in a letter to the prime minister and to President Iloilo and had given them other alternatives.

For additional reports from Radio New Zealand International, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio New Zealand International.

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