FIJI HIGH COURT RIFT PITS JUDGE AGAINST JUDGE

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SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Nov. 2) – The impartiality of Fiji’s highest court is in question after a request by three High Court judges not to include a senior judge in Supreme Court panels reviewing their cases because of his alleged bias towards them.

However, Justice Michael Scott continues to preside over the cases of Justice Nazhat Shameem, Justice Anthony Gates and Justice Edward Byrne who claim that he exercises extreme hostility towards them.

The three judges were opposed to the giving of legal advice and the drafting of decrees by members of the judiciary in the aftermath of the coup of 2000.

The three are concerned that the five-year rift between them and Justice Scott could affect the course of justice.

Documents obtained by the Fiji Sun include a detailed account of letters by the three judges to Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki asking that Justice Scott be excluded from any Supreme Court panel that has to rule on their cases.

Justice Scott had a difference of opinion with the judges when coup convict Ratu Rakuita Vakalalabure filed for an appeal in the Supreme Court after Justice Shameem convicted him and others. A hearing in the Appeals Court upheld Justice Shameem’s ruling.

The three judges claim that since 2000 Justice Scott has communicated extreme hostility towards them. Justice Scott refused to reconcile and instead demanded an inquiry into the conduct of the three judges and allegedly threatened to sue them on his retirement from the bench. The rift has not healed.

The Court of Appeal dealt with the problem administratively by trying to avoid placing appeals of the three judges before Justice Scott. Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki wrote a letter saying that Justice Scott had to be included in the panel because the Supreme Court lacked a judge after Justice Robert French became ill.

However, Justice Shameem replied that the issue should not be one of convenience but that the impartiality of the court must be maintained.

"Any judgment this court delivers may be quite correct in law. However when it is delivered by a court, which has on it a member who lacks impartiality, it lacks validity. The public at large and not just the litigants have the right to an impartial court."

Mr Fatiaki said he had no power to remove Justice Scott from the case.

Justice Shameem has filed an application to disqualify the court from further hearing the Vakalalabure appeal on the ground that Justice Scott's hostility towards her is evidence of actual bias, which compromises the fairness of the court.

In his own letter to Justice Fatiaki, Justice Scott said the three judges were guilty of misconduct, which had brought the judiciary and him into disrespute.

"My career and general standing in Fiji has been badly damaged," he said.

The Supreme Court has rejected the bid to have Justice Scott disqualified from Vakalalabure’s case.

November 3, 2005

FijiSUN: http://www.sun.com.fj/

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