Saturday, January 26, 2008

Fiji judge urges lawyers to speak out

25 JAN 2008
Outgoing Fiji High Court judge Justice Roger Coventry says he is concerned with aspects of the country’s judicial system and has called on lawyers to “speak out”.

Justice Coventry was farewelled in a cocktail in Suva last evening organized by the Fiji Law Society.

He told the lawyers present that “the immediate future is not rosy” and there are certain things lawyers can and should do.

“The first is to uphold, according to law, judicial office whether or not you like the individual office holder.

“Do not accept the legality for the sake of expediency or any other reason.

“If you do not draw your line here, then when you do draw it, it will be many steps back. Speak out! Judges can not. Bring cases, raise the issues. Acquiescence is the friend of illegality.”

Justice Coventry sys he decided early this month to “terminate” his contract after finding himself “unable to continue sitting”.

“This was not a sudden decision,” he said.

“I have been concerned with the speed with which cases of fundamental importance are progressing.

“I have been concerned over the rule, which requires the judge to recuse (disqualify) him or herself if that judge‘s position is dependent upon a particular answer to the question posed.

“I am concerned that acts, which on their face appear to be unlawful, are being presumed lawful until the court rules otherwise.

“I am concerned that in circumstances that requires a judge or judges to take a particular course of action, that that course is not being taken.”

Justice Coventry adds that the resignation of the entire panel of the Fiji Court of Appeal late last year left behind “an unsatisfactory state of affairs”.

“The knowledge that there is a respected and experienced Court of Appeal available to put right any errors is most reassuring,’ he said.

He also said judges are humans and have their likes and dislikes in the same way as anyone else, but “personalities must play no part in justice”.

Justice Coventry is likely to return to England. Although he admits that he would like to stay in Fiji if the opportunity arises.

“If there could be some other cause consistent with principle whereby I could stay in Fiji then I would take it. I regret there is not.”

Justice Coventry arrived in Fiji in 2005.

He is the only judge of the High Court bench in Fiji who has set as a member of the Appeals Court and on a regular basis.

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