Home > Corruption, Papua New Guinea, Politics > PNG law under scrutiny as judges suspended

PNG law under scrutiny as judges suspended

Liam Fox

Papua New Guinea’s opposition leader, Dame Carol Kidu, says the government’s use of a controversial new law to suspend two senior judges sets a dangerous precedent.

The government has passed a motion directing the Governor-General to appoint a tribunal to investigate allegations of bias against two senior judges. It says chief justice Sir Salamo Injia and Justice Nicholas Kirriwom have breached its new Judicial Conduct Act.

The controversial law gives parliament the power to refer judges it deems to be biased effectively suspending them while investigations are carried out.

Dame Carol says the law gives the government too much power over the judiciary.

“I’m angry because the prime minister lied as he has often lied in the past,” she said.

“Future politicians will think, ‘this bill is quite good. We can control the judiciary by doing this if we don’t like them’. Now, what road are we on?”

Yesterday the leader of government business, Moses Maladina, told parliament Sir Salamo had sat on, and made orders in, a case involving himself while Justice Kirriwom had criticised the government in a recently leaked internal memo.

“It is essential that there is a process by which misbehaviour by the judiciary may be assessed and determine whether there should be any accountability as a result of the misbehaviour and the Judicial Conduct Act assists in this regard,” he told parliament.

Major case

The two judges are part of a five-man Supreme Court bench that had just begun hearing a major constitutional case. It stems from the ongoing leadership conflict between prime minister Peter O’Neill and the man he replaced last year, Sir Michael Somare.

The court has been asked dozens of constitutional questions, the answers to which will effectively determine the legitimacy of Mr O’Neill’s government. The fate of the case is now unclear.

There was a public outcry when the Judicial Conduct Act was hurried through parliament last month.

Critics said it gave one arm of government, the executive, too much power over another arm, the judiciary.

The government backtracked last week, indicating it would not implement the law for nine months while the public was consulted. But it has now backtracked on its backtrack.

Several thousand students from the University of PNG took to the streets of Port Moresby last month to protest against the Judicial Conduct Act.

The president of the Student Representative Council, Emmanuel Isaac, says it is likely they will march again.

“Parliament has simply defied the voice of the people,” he said.

“If they can defy our voice I think the silent majority who don’t even have access to media and don’t understand what is going on, their voice has also been defied as well.”

Heavily armed police showed uncharacteristic restraint by allowing the students to protest despite initially refusing them permission, but that may not be the case next time.

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