Judiciary in the firing line

PAPUA New Guinea’s Parliament is stepping up its campaign against the judiciary with Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah calling on three judges to resign while Parliament aims to introduce a judicial “conduct” bill.
Judiciary in the firing line Judiciary in the firing line Judiciary in the firing line Judiciary in the firing line Judiciary in the firing line

The coalition government led by Prime Minister O'Neill and Namah has been at loggerheads with the country's Supreme Court almost since it first won control of Parliament in early August.

It worsened after the court ruled that Sir Michael Somare was the rightful PM instead of O'Neill on December 12 and a vast array of matters relating to the legitimacy of the O'Neill-Namah government remain before the court.

In yet another twist during the ongoing constitutional crisis, an internal memo between judges was leaked to a blog site, PNG Exposed, just over a week ago.

The signed memo from Justice Nicholas Kirriwom warned of a hidden agenda behind the O'Neill-Namah government's "persistent moves" to oust Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia - with police recently charging Injia over an old matter relating to how the court handled the estate of a late judge.

Namah has since made a full-page statement published in The National accusing Injia, Kirriwom and Justice George Manuhu of judicial corruption and calling for them to resign.

Today the newspaper reported that the government had given notice it would introduce the Judicial Conduct Bill 2012 to enact section 157 of the constitution to "control the ethical conduct of members of the judiciary".

The government reportedly wants the judiciary to "respect and honour all decisions" made by the parliament since November 1, while the proposed bill will prevent judges from exercising their powers if they are referred to a leadership tribunal which must report to Parliament.

The bill announcement resulted in The National running an editorial titled "no to judicial conduct legislation".

This piece made the point that such law would amend the constitution and would therefore require a three-quarter majority support of Parliament "sitting two months apart through three separate sittings".

"The Judicial Conduct Bill 2012 would never see light of day until well after the general election and then only if the new government agrees to continue with pushing the bill through to law," the newspaper said in its editorial.

"We can confidently surmise that the events of the immediate past have given rise to this bill.

"Such a law, if this law were to be passed, it can be used to strike out the current court proceedings questioning the legitimacy of the government.

"This would be done on grounds that the pending proceedings can arouse and cause dissent and unrest during the national election."

Angoram MP and former public enterprises minister Arthur Somare already foreshadowed the dangers of interfering with judicial powers on Monday and said O'Neill's silence indicated he was fully supportive of the actions of his deputy.

"The separation of powers is critical in our democracy," Somare said.

"If these three arms of government are no longer independent then our nation and our people are looking down a barrel of an autocratic state.

"Namah is deliberately gnawing away at the independence of institutions that define our democracy.

"He cannot meddle in the internal workings of the judiciary. Judges are allowed to consult with each other. His utter contempt against the judiciary is dangerous for PNG's future.

"[At] no time in our 36-year history has our judiciary come under such threat and intimidation as we are now facing from this illegal regime led by Mr O'Neill."

The next election is scheduled to run over June and July but Namah previously said he wanted to delay it by 12 months.

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