Fiji hits back at scathing report

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Fiji’s attorney general has launched a personal attack on the author of a report which claimed to expose a serious deterioration in the rule of law in the country.

Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (pictured), the second most powerful member of Fiji’s government, described the report as a ‘joke’ and declared that Nigel Dodds had ‘no integrity’. His comments were reported by the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation and widely circulated to other media.

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The report, first revealed in the Gazette, was based on interviews with a wide range of Fiji lawyers conducted during a covert trip by Dodds in November 2011. Dodds, chair of the Law Society Charity and a council member, entered the country on a tourist visa because official visits, including a 2009 delegation proposed by the IBA, had been refused permission to enter Fiji. Sayed-Khaiyum has denied allegations that lawyers opposed to the government are no longer being instructed.

The Gazette, however, has been shown a May 2007 cabinet directive stating that no ­government ministries or statutory bodies should ‘engage the legal services of Munro Leys and Howards’, a firm named in Dodds’ report. Sources in Fiji confirm that the ban remains in place.

The attorney general also denied that the Fijian authorities had imported judges from other jurisdictions, principally Sri Lanka, to replace those it had dismissed.

However, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association has supported Dodds’ findings in this respect, after the report noted the name and position of specific appointments. These included resident magistrate Irani Ganga Wakishta Arachchi, and the recently departed DPP Ayesha Jinasena, both Sri Lankans. The current DPP, Christopher Pryde, is from New Zealand and has also served as solicitor general.

Dodds’ report charts the government’s alleged assaults on the legal profession and the independence of the courts and prosecutors since a 2006 coup, and the assumption of emergency powers in 2009.

A practice direction prevents any court from hearing a legal case against the government.

Since the story broke, copies of the report have been sent on request to the United Nations, legal professionals and diplomats in Fiji’s capital Suva.

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