Monday, November 10, 2008


Judicial “bad vibes” not good for PNG

IS the judiciary truly squeaky clean and free from the forces of graft and corruption? Maybe. Maybe not. As a nation we hope not.

This scribe doesn’t claim to know of any instance of wrongful and unethical behaviour by their Honours.

Be that as it may, there are still suspicions galore – unfortunately among judges themselves -- of less than appropriate conduct in those hallowed halls of justice in Waigani. These suspicions are somewhat confirmed in the latest spill of public pronouncements by judges venting their ire and fury over matters that mature and level headed public officials of their calibre would normally deal with and conclude in-house to the satisfaction of all concerned.

Judges of all people should know that well. The fury of the latest judicial “bad vibes” is far from over and it is not good for PNG. The last thing Papua New Guineans want is a disgraced and unstable judiciary that lacks integrity and independence.

Right now, it’s a much divided bench we have at the National and Supreme courts. They have taken their in-house problems out of the court house to the pages of newspapers to be resolved.

Judges are now bad-mouthing and slinging off publicly against each other without alluding to settlement of their disagreement amicably behind closed doors. That type of conflict resolution or dispute settlement – that is, by mediation and mutually agreeing to disagree -- is no longer the norm with our judiciary.

They’ve also become politicians and scramblers for publicity at any cost. Somehow, their Honours are putting credibility to the adage of “Trial by Media” and have gone down the publicity highway to amplify their disgust against each other.

They do not want to keep their dirty laundry in the court rooms -- not any more. They want to wash their dirty laundry and hang them up in full public view. Bad judgment but true.

The writing is very clear. All is not well at the “Hallowed Halls of Justice” in Waigani. They have monumental administrative, financial and ethical problems. It’s now public knowledge that obvious battle lines have been drawn between two or more groups of judges. The trophy at the end of the battle lines is the coveted position of Chief Justice. Assertive

Government intervention is urgently needed in the appointment of a Chief Justice without further ado. To delay the appointment is to further destabilise the judiciary, subject the judiciary arm of government to politicization in the form of political lobby for the job, invite graft and corruption to creep into play wherein interest groups would play “political and financial hardball” to secure the top judicial job.

It’s happened in the past, happens all the time and can be repeated again and again. Judges are human beings who also are not devoid of or immune to the usual human flaws, ambitions and egos of mammoth proportions. Each would do anything to satisfy the ambition of becoming the Chief Justice of PNG by hook or by crook and satisfy the ego of one day sitting down in retirement and boastfully telling the grandchildren how he or she made it to the top – again by hook or by crook. That seems to be the form at present.

From within those hallowed halls of justice allegations and counter-allegations are rife of judges not strictly following highest best practice standards, judicial ethics and due process in justice administration.

The judiciary – it seems – will no longer keep their in-house squabbles in camera. They have actually opened their “can of indiscretions” and all manner of worms are crawling out.

There are implications that the judiciary may not be “straight” after all -- that some of them may have succumbed to external influences of graft and corruption that have tainted accepted judicial conduct and practice.

It would seem that the dignity, integrity and decorum of the judiciary are under serious stress and compromise. Ask experienced long serving judges Mark Sevua and Bernard Sakora and see if their Honours will spill more beans in addition to what they already have spilled.

Both are no nonsense jurists who are vocal against conduct that is beneath the dignity, integrity and decorum of law or judicial officers and practitioners. They are impatient with inappropriately attired lawyers, sloppy presentation by litigation lawyers and will not hesitate to put away lawyers in both private and State employ behind bars for contempt, non-attendance at scheduled trials or for not being punctual.

It came as no surprise last week when the two eminent judges came out firing on all cylinders and sang tunes from the same hymn book serenading and condemning what they saw as “backstab” by a three-judge Supreme Court ruling that effectively prevented Judge Sakora from reviewing a case before him in the National Court.

The Supreme Court judges who made that ruling were Acting Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia and Justices Nicholas Kirriwom and Sao Gabi. Like judges Sakora and Sevua, Justices Injia, Kirriwom and Gabi are also highly respected Papua New Guinean jurists. But there appears to be some bad blood running among them.

Again this scribe and those that are learned legal and judicial observers can only go by the smoke rising from the hallowed halls of justice. When a judge – in this case Justice Bernard Sakora – uses a non-judicial word like “hijacking” to describe an action or judgment by fellow judges, the obvious the obvious implication or reaction arising thereof will be one of wonder as to what is actually going on among appointed judicial authorities.

Justice Sakora was irate over last Monday’s Supreme Court removal of a stay order he had granted the week before on continuation of hearing by the Commission Inquiry probing management of public funds by the Department of Finance. Justice Sakora was furious that he had not been consulted by the Supreme Court of its dealing of a matter that was under review before him in the National Court.

He felt “insulted, abused and denigrated” by his brother judges.

From the bench, Justice Sakora said in a seven page statement: “It is objectionable and offensive to be treated this way, apart from, of course, the disrespect and the nonsense that was perpetrated on the laws and legal procedures that we (judges) are bound by. “In my considered opinion, there has been a blatant interference with my judicial functions, in the process questioning my judicial integrity and independence.

“In my considered opinion, no law or procedure, or combination of both, would support and justify the intervention and interference of the Supreme Court in the way that it did (last Monday). “And the way it did was ride roughshod over the constitutional powers, duties and functions given to this court by Section 155(3) (a).

“Some of us who are committed to doing things right by all manner of people, true and faithful to our judicial oath and declaration, not to mention the lawyers Oath we all took on admission to practice law in this country are now constantly frustrated. “Those of us who are duty-bound, to enforce the laws of the country, are being constantly frustrated in this very serious task by those who wish to evade and avoid the requirements of the laws and procedures of the country, by those who wish to cut corners, as it were.

“There is an assault on the democratic principles adopted on Independence. “As a necessary adjunct to this is the popular tendency these days to condone and reward mediocrity, irregularity, unconstitutionality and illegality. “The unusual become the usual; the unacceptable become the acceptable and irregular become the regular. “Judicial power of the people is to be exercised without fear or favour.

“People’s judicial power is not intended to be used or exercised whimsically, or for personal, private or ulterior motives.”

These are powerful statements indicating something seriously amiss within the judiciary. These are statements that bring the spotlight sharply into focus on presumed “slippage” judicial conduct and erosion of judicial integrity.

The immediate impression one gets is of the “right hand not knowing what the left is doing” and that seems to be the case on this occasion.

Will the public of Papua New Guinea now perceive the judiciary as lacking in dignity, integrity, impartiality and independence? Why are there in-fighting, squabbling and public outbursts of disagreement?

Should the judiciary be investigated and by whom for behaviour that is contrary to accepted judicial standards? Or is the judiciary immune to independent probes?

The judges are people who are highly regarded and respected by Papua New Guineans. They are respected with awe. Their aura and very deity-type presence in their robes on the bench can send an ordinary person unaccustomed to court room procedure and culture into fits or become an absolute nervous wreck.

Their “Honours” – it seems – are not united, not speaking with one voice and not acting collectively in unison and pulling together in the same desired direction. Judicial conduct is no longer a matter of quietly agreeing to disagree and thereafter keeping the mutually agreed disagreement under wraps well out of sight, hearing or knowledge of the public. But increasingly of late, their Honours have jumped on the bandwagon of “publicity seekers” to air their views and disagreements in the public media.

The verdict of this scribe on this trend is: Bad judgment, Your Honours! Are there no other avenues other than the media to discuss issues of judicial integrity, performance, conduct and indiscretions in the administration of justice?

By hanging their dirty linen out in the open for public viewing, members of the judiciary have thrown to the wind their integrity and decorum; sacredness, impartiality and independence and the public’s awe and respect for them.

All of those sacred attributes that make the judiciary the surety, the pillar to be relied on and the last bastion of hope, of defence of democracy and the nation’s constitution in the face of adverse political and executive upheaval are in danger of being usurped, eroded and comprised by corrupt external influences and professional negligence by judges to follow due process in justice administration.

That’s right. The integrity of the judiciary is being usurped – according to certain senior lawyers – by the judges themselves in their selfish quest for one upmanship, avarice and allegedly “scratch-my-back-and-I-scratch-yours” sweet-heart deals.

For a long while there were sporadic bursts of smoke rising from the hallowed sacred halls of the judicial shrine at Waigani. Many judicial observers suspected – and now know – that all has not been well among their “Honours”.

Judicial squabbles among brother judges, highly irregular outbursts and dressing down of lawyers from the bench and purportedly open lobbying for appointment as Chief Justice standout as some of the indiscretions that have tarnished what has been – since independence 33 years ago – a fiercely impartial and independent judiciary that meted out justice administration without fear or favour.

It seems that those days of dealing with court cases impartially, independently and without fear or favour are gone.

For all our sakes and in the perpetual best interest of our nation, those values and ethics that the judiciary has upheld steadfastly since Independence should neither be compromised nor eroded – not even for a song and a dance. No way. I rest my case.

Share your views with the writer at or send SMS to (675) 684 5168.

No comments:

Post a Comment