A MORPETH resident went on a secret undercover mission in Fiji to find out first-hand the restrictions placed on its justice system.
Solicitor Nigel Dodds, who travelled to the Pacific Island on a private visit, discovered that there was no rule of law, no freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary could not be relied upon after interviewing lawyers, former judges and non-governmental organisations in November 2011.
The Chairman of the Law Society Charity has since produced a report – Fiji: The Rule of Law Lost – which he hopes will lead to increased international pressure on the country to make changes.
Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth in 2009 after it refused to call elections following a military coup in 2006. Also in 2009, its Government fired all the judges and established rule by decree.
Mr Dodds, who was a senior partner with Alderson Dodds Solicitors in Blyth and now works from home as he is semi-retired, managed to by-pass its blockade on monitoring visits of the situation in the country, which had seen representatives of the United Nations and the International Bar Association attempting to investigate the rule of law refused entry.
“I took advantage of the fact that I was visiting the Pacific region on a trip abroad to find out the current situation in Fiji by saying I was a tourist and I discovered that the most basic principles of democracy and justice we take for granted do not exist there,” said Mr Dodds, who lives in Loansdean.
“While it is an idyllic destination for holidaymakers, behind that facade is a worrying picture of a society devoid of the rule of law.
“Its emergency powers include having Government censors in place to monitor newspapers, radio programmes and television stations and no more than three people can have a meeting without a permit.
“Challenges to any Government action through the courts are forbidden through the 2009 Administration of Justice Act and it is virtually impossible for an independent legal profession to function appropriately.
“Fiji’s Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions have both denounced the report as intellectually unsound, but I’m pleased they have commented on it as this has helped to raise its profile even further in the Pacific region.”
The 62-year-old, a former President of the Newcastle Law Society, also revealed that the Government depends to a significant extent on the appointment of judges from Sri Lanka on short-term contracts without security of tenure.
“The charity has taken the issue as far as it can, but as an individual it’s my entitlement to highlight these problems with the backing of The Law Society’s human rights and international issues committees,” he added.
“We are now hoping that countries in the Pacific will put pressure on Fiji and the UK Government will get involved because we’ve still got a significant trading interest in Fiji and the army recruits people from the nation.”