SUVA, Fiji (Nov. 3) – Only a judge can clear the High Court of media and public just as only a judge can bar the reporting of certain or all aspects of a case.

Judges, of course, very rarely take such action. When they do close their courts, it is done for very good and very clear reasons.

Judges tend to lean towards disclosure of proceedings on the principle that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done.

Curiously, nobody seems to have told the police officers on duty at the Suva High Court of this.

Yesterday, family and friends were allowed to hear and see the proceedings in the case of Ratu Jope Seniloli who appealed before the three judges of the Fiji Appeals Court against his sentence for misprision of treason. The media, however, was barred from the court – not by the court itself but by the police.

Acting quite illegally, the police officers on duty at first said this was on the basis of "orders from inside" though they would not elaborate as to who might have had issued such orders.

The court registrar stated that the case was to be held in open court which meant that press and public were welcome to attend. Even Ratu Seniloli’s defence lawyer confirmed that the court was open. But that did not move the police.

Eventually, the media personnel were told by the same officers to return for the 2 p.m. session. When they did so, however, they were again denied entry. This time the excuse was that the court was already full. This is obviously nonsense and a gross abuse of authority by those officers and whoever it was "inside" who issued such orders, if indeed such orders existed.

If they had wanted the hearing held in private, the Appeals Court judges, people of wide experience and high respect, would have made that intention very clear in court. There would be no question of vague "orders from inside".

The police officers may well have thought they were protecting a senior figure. If that is so, they have failed.

Ratu Seniloli has never asked for preferential treatment and has gained massive public respect for that. The foolish actions of some irresponsible junior police officers risk eroding that respect. They need to be brought into line – and quickly.

November 3, 2004


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