Judicial Independence Across the World: Papua New Guinea

In a previous blog  we looked at judicial independence in Greece (where a judge has been appointed caretaker Prime Minister) and Hungary (where the ruling Fidesz have introduced constitutional reforms to place the management of the judiciary firmly in the hands of the executive).

We contrasted this with the stability of judicial independence in the United Kingdom. The debates in this country centre on some very abstruse technicalities, for example the changes to the composition of selection panels for Supreme Court judges proposed by the Crime & Courts Bill 2012. The constitutional position of the judiciary only very rarely enters the public consciousness – think of the recent Peter Hain case, although that was hardly a ‘stop the presses’ type story!

However, much as in Greece and Hungary, in many nations judicial independence is a ‘headline issue’. We are trying to avoid making value judgments on any of these particular cases, and we acknowledge that the judiciary aren’t always sacrosanct. Rather, this blog is just an observation on how judicial independence is a much more pressing political issue in some parts of the world.

We shall begin by looking at the recent, and very chaotic, events that have influenced judicial independence in Papua New Guinea. We hope that this is an appropriate starting point for blogs looking at global judicial independence – it is hard to think of a series of events that could violate the doctrines of the separation of powers more roundly!!!

Papua New Guinea: Two justices of the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court were recently arrested on charges of sedition. Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia was apprehended by a police unit, led by the Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, which stormed into the Chief Justice’s court on 24th May 2012. Justice Nicholas Kirriwom was also detained and questioned by the authorities.

Mr Namah insisted that the Chief Justice was playing politics and was quoted as saying that “the Chief Justice is sick in his head”. The Chief Justice appealed to police and military personnel to abide by his ruling. “This country is being run by men who are happy to use force rather than the rule of law,” he said.

In late May 2012, the two judges had sat as part of a three man bench that ruled (for the second time) that Sir Michael Somare is the legitimate Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, not Parliament’s choice, Peter O’Neill. Two other Supreme Court judges, Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika & Bernard Sakora, had refused to hand down judgements, citing ethical reasons.  Justice Kirriwom was also accused of authoring an email (sent to other members of the judiciary) that referred to the O’Neill government as illegal.

In late 2011 Sir Michael, the long-time leader of Papua New Guinea, was out of the country receiving medical treatment. Parliament decided that (as Sir Michael had been absent for such a long time) the Prime Minister role was vacant. MP’s then elected Mr O’Neill as the new Prime Minister. In December 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that Sir Michael was the legitimate leader of Papua New Guinea, which briefly led to Sir Michael & Mr O’Neill being Prime Minister simultaneously!

Since then Mr O’Neill has been effectively running Papua New Guinea and it was his government that ordered the arrest of the judges.

Rather confusingly, the Deputy Speaker (Francis Marus) recently declared to Parliament that the court’s decisions would be accepted. However, Mr. Marus said that Sir Michael could not be reinstated as he had missed three sessions of Parliament since January. Nominations for a new Prime Minister were then thrown open.

This led to Mr O’Neill being elected (again) by Parliamentarians on 30th May 2012. The situation should become clearer after general elections in June 2012.

One Response to Judicial Independence Across the World: Papua New Guinea

  1. Pingback: Judicial Independence Around the World: Nepal & Morocco « constitutionunitdotcom

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