From Chris Merritt writing in The Australian
ONE of Fiji’s sacked judges has predicted that the conduct of Chief Justice Anthony Gates has reached the stage where he is likely to leave the country before it returns to democracy.
Francis Douglas QC said Chief Justice Gates appeared to be “the conductor of the orchestra” in recruiting Sri Lank1an judges to fill the gaps caused by the dismissal of Fiji’s judiciary.
“It is likely that he went to Sri Lanka and recruited the judges because he has a place there,” said Mr Douglas.
“I suspect he intends to retire there so I don’t think he is too worried about what will happen to him if a democratic government comes to power.
“I can’t speak for him but he would probably leave before any election is held.”
Along with fellow Australian silks Ian Lloyd QC and Randall Powell SC, Mr Douglas formed a three-judge bench of the Fiji Court of Appeal that ruled in April that the government of Commodore Frank Bainimarama was illegal. Chief Justice Gates, who was among those dismissed the day after this ruling, was one of the first to agree to return to the bench despite the fact that the constitution had been overturned.
When Mr Douglas had joined the Fiji bench just before the upheaval of April 10, he believed Chief Justice Gates was trying to do his best for the country’s judicial system.
There had been hopes that a working legal system would foster the development of “a kind of culture that would lead to the restoration of democracy”.
But he said the position of the Chief Justice was now “almost untenable”.
While the Chief Justice might leave the country before an election, Mr Douglas said members of the Bainimarama regime might need to be offered pardons in order to persuade them to return Fiji to democracy.
“As a matter of Fijian law, they are in breach of the constitution. So if a democratically elected government were to be brought to power I think that could amount to old-fashioned treason or something of that nature,” Mr Douglas said.
The Australian government this week accused the Chief Justice, who holds dual Australian and British citizenship, of worsening Fiji’s relations with Australia and being linked to the military-backed regime.
The Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on Monday saying Chief Justice Gates appeared to have misled the Bainimarama regime over the impact of Australian travel bans on those judges who had taken office in Fiji after the abrogation of the constitution.
“The advice provided by Justice Gates appears to be contrary to information provided by Australian government officials to the interim government only days earlier,” the department’s statement said. “This misrepresentation of the basic facts contributed to the increased tensions and further demonstrates the close links between the Fiji judiciary and the regime,” the statement said.
Mr Douglas said he did not agree with the way Chief Justice Gates had conducted himself “but I have some sympathy for him”.
The Chief Justice had been only a few months away from pensionable age when the constitution had been overturned and he had devoted his entire working life to Fiji.
“I think he has found himself between a rock and a hard place. That is no excuse, but it is certainly an explanation,” he said. While Chief Justice Gates had recruited seven judges and magistrates from Sri Lanka, Mr Douglas said no self-respecting senior lawyer from Australia or New Zealand would be likely to join the Fiji bench.
Well said, Justice Douglas. No self-respecting lawyer would join Fiji’s illegal bench. Only those who are corruptible would support a system that is so obviously and thoroughly illegal.
We The People deserve so much better leadership than these $&*%^&$.
God bless Fiji