It could get worse: Amet

PARLIAMENT could make more moves to suspend key judges of Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court as the controversial judicial conduct laws have received their final sign off.
It could get worse: Amet It could get worse: Amet It could get worse: Amet It could get worse: Amet It could get worse: Amet

The laws are widely seen as a threat to the separation of powers between parliament and the judiciary.

News of the Judicial Conduct Bill only surfaced in the media about two weeks ago and Prime Minister Peter O'Neill recently made a national address to defend it.

But PNG business chambers, trade unions, students and non-government organisations remain opposed to this measure, which is yet another twist in PNG's ongoing constitutional crisis.

According to the Post-Courier Speaker Jeffery Nape and the Clerk of Parliament Don Pandan certified the Judicial Conduct Act 2012 on Friday - which was further confirmed by Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

Constitution-amending bills typically take months, and sometimes years, to push through and there are concerns that due process was not followed.

The final trigger for the new law appears to be the leaking of an internal memo between judges.

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.

The Injia-led Supreme Court upheld that Sir Michael Somare was the rightful PM on December 12, and lawyers for the O'Neill-Namah government are still challenging that decision.

Sir Arnold Amet, a former chief justice and the attorney general under the Somare government, said the judicial conduct laws were an attack on Injia and the fundamental principles of PNG's constitution.

"There are adequate laws and procedures to tackle perceived errant behaviour by judges and it will be a retrograde step for parliament to set itself up as an arbiter of standards of governance and accountability," he said.

He also commented on the numerous attempts by the dominant coalition to suspend Injia.

"How many times has the O'Neill-Namah government tried to impugn the reputation of the Chief Justice for an alleged offence that we now know does not exist, and which has no relevance to issues of national importance before the Supreme Court?"

Amet referred to the recent casino scandal controversy in regards to the issue of ethical standards.

"The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Belden Namah, keeps calling on Supreme Court judges to resign when front page news on his personal conduct suggests he is the most disreputable leader to have ever held that high office," Amet said.

He further said Namah "engineered" the ousting of Somare last year, and he is forecasting a dangerous descent for PNG.

"The attack on the Constitution is threatening, in a fundamental way, to generate a breakdown in law and order.

"Already prisoners have threatened mass breakouts from 20 jails. This government has created emergency style interventions with the use of special army and police units in East Sepik and Southern Highlands.

"Army assistance may now be needed in Enga after mobs, taking advantage of a deteriorating law and order situation, raided the Porgera gold mine. Unless fair mindedness and good sense prevails, soon there could be worse to come."

While the judicial conduct laws have been heavily criticised, one legal source has previously provided a differing perspective to PNGIndustryNews.net.

He said it appeared that PNG's constitution did contain some "rather unique barriers" to judicial regulatory structures.

The source further said agencies to scrutinise judicial conduct were quite common in other jurisdictions and while they were often fairly contentious he had not heard of an example of them being abused.

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