O'Neill govt introduce bill to give cabinet and parliament powers to remove judges

21/03/2012 00:48

The 109-seat PNG parliament to be given powers to remove National and Supreme Court judges.

Papua New Guinea’s O’Neill government has introduced a bill to give cabinet and parliament powers to remove National and Supreme Court judges.

In worrying signs for the Pacific Islands’ largest democracy, Dr Allan Marat, attorney general in the government of parliament-elected Prime Minister Peter O’Neill introduced the Judiciary Conduct Bill when parliament sat on Tuesday.

Opposition Leader Dame Carol Kidu has confirmed the bill was introduced in parliament and described it as a blatant attack on the judiciary, an institution which a lot of Papua New Guineans regard as the last bastion of hope in a country crippled by corruption and lawlessness.

According to Port Moresby-based radio station PNG FM Ltd the bill would place the behaviour of PNG’s judges under scrutiny and limit their powers, giving parliament and cabinet overarching control over their conduct and the power to remove them.

All PNG judges are already subject to the PNG Leadership Code – like other constitutional office holders – but this bill if enacted would enable the legislature and the executive to act above the Organic Law on the Duties and Responsibilities of Leadership and refer judges when and how it sees fit.

One section of the bill reportedly states that if it appears to parliament that a judge fails to disqualify himself or herself from a proceedings, in which their impartiality could be in question, parliament will move by way of a motion to refer the judge for alleged misconduct in office, reports PNG FM Ltd.

The bill is likely to spark a community backlash similar to the controversial Maladina amendments, which the Somare government tried to push through parliament in 2010 to remove the powers of the Ombudsman Commission, only to meet stiff resistance when over 10,000 Papua New Guineans protested in PNG’s major urban centres.

The O'Neill/Namah government continue their attack on the judiciary with new bill.

The bill if passed by parliament will take effect retrospective to November 1, 2011, which coincidentally was the time the O’Neill government tried unsuccessfully to remove the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia. It appears the introduction of this contentious legislation is another attempt by the O’Neill government to attack the judiciary.

Dame Carol has warned that the bill, despite its wider ramifications on the separation of powers between the three arms of government, could be fast-tracked by the government and passed on voices.

“It could be brought forward any time as it is a simple act of parliament and can be passed on the voices.   It is a really scary trend and I am ready to debate against it tomorrow (today)...it directly undermines the basis of the separation of powers as enshrined in our constitution and puts a higher scrutiny threshold for judges than for parliamentarians.  It is yet another blatant attack on the judiciary and I cannot comprehend how government can justify it,” she told PNG Perspective.com last night.

The lone woman MP in PNG’s 109-seat parliament, Dame Carol would be hoping controversial speaker Jeffry Nape maintains his impartiality and gives her an opportunity to speak, following reports yesterday that he refused to allow Mr O’Neill to respond to MPs’ questions relating to the 2012 general election.

The bill's introduction comes three weeks after armed policemen, believed to be acting on the orders of the O'Neill government, entered the court precinct and arrested and charged Sir Salamo for allegedly perverting the course of justice. A number of judges suspended their cases in response to the arrest and charging of their superior, with the National Court later ruling that the charges were an abuse of process and issuing a permanent stay on the proceedings.