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KUALA LUMPUR, Sun: Malaysian Bar Councillor, Roger Tan has been barred from entering Fiji after the interim government there issued a stop arrival order to border officials at the Nadi International Airport last Friday prohibiting him from entering the country.
Tan, who was supposed to board the flight from here to Sydney en route to Fiji yesterday evening, was part of an International Bar Association (IBA) delegation scheduled to arrive in Fiji today to examine the independence of judiciary and the state of the rule of law in the country.
The order, effective from February 18 to 22, also prohibits other members of the delegation – including Justice Roslyn Atkinson of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Australia and Felicia Johnston, from the IBA's Human Rights Institute.
However, Felicia who arrived in Fiji at 5.30am yesterday morning from Los Angeles unaware of the order was denied entry. She left for Brisbane, Australia seven hours later.
Fiji Law Society President, Isireli Fa said the action taken by the government was totally unnecessary and this had only painted a negative image of Fiji.
When contacted, the Malaysian Bar President, Ambiga Sreenevasan said this is a missed opportunity for Fiji government to show that its judicial process is above board and that they have nothing to hide.
"I am confident that the IBA will be very professional and neutral in its observations as they are highly experienced in undertaking missions of this sort", said Ambiga.
On January 30 last month, the interim Attorney General of Fiji, Aiyaz Sayed–Khaiyum said the IBA Human Rights Insitute is not welcome to visit Fiji now because their presence will undermine the independence of judges hearing high–profile cases.
When asked when was a good time for the IBA to visit Fiji, Sayed–Khaiyum said it should be when all the high–profile constitutional cases currently before the courts and the tribunal settings were completed.
However, various non–governmental organisations including the Fiji Law Society have backed the planned visit.
The Fiji Law Society which invited the IBA to Fiji said the decision to ask the IBA to send a team of eminent jurists followed the IBA Conference in Singapore last October.
"It is critical that we draw on the wisdom of our international friends to come in and make objective assessments of our situation and assist us by making helpful suggestions to solve our problems and move forward," said Graham Leung, a former president of the Fiji Law Society.
The Human Rights Institute of IBA or better known as IBAHRI was established in 1995 under the honorary presidency of Nelson Mandela as a leading voice in the promotion of the rule of law worldwide.
Justice Roslyn Atkinson is a Judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.
Tan is the Chair of the Conveyancing Practice Committee of the Malaysian Bar Council. He holds a Bachelor of Laws with Honours from Queen Mary College of the University of London, and a Master of Laws from the National University of Singapore. He is also a barrister–at–law of Gray's Inn, London and an advocate and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore.
Fiji which achieved independence in 1970 has been affected by several military coups; the most recent being the December 2006 coup engineered by the army's commander, Frank Bainimarama.
Since then, members of the Fijian legal fraternity are deeply
concerned by appointments to the judiciary in Fiji. It started on January 3,
2007 when Chief Justice Daniel Fatiaki was ordered to take leave from his office. On
January 16, 2007, Justice Anthony Gates was sworn in as the Acting Chief Justice. Two
days later, Chief Justice Fatiaki was formally suspended.
In addition, the legality of subsequent appointments to the judiciary made by the Judicial Services Commission under the chairmanship of the Acting Chief Justice has been called into question. Examples of recent appointments include two Malaysian lawyers, Dato' Cyrus Das and Dato' Cecil Abraham who were appointed to the Court of Appeal on September 5, 2007 despite having no apparent judicial experience. (It is understood the duo subsequently declined to accept the appointments.) On September 20, 2007, Justice Pathik's contract was extended until April 2008 this year despite being 77 years of age when under the Constitution, a judge's appointment expires when they reach 65 years of age for the High Court or 70 years of age for the Court of Appeal.
The Fiji Law Society is also contemplating of challenging the legality of the appointments of puisne and appeal judges of the Fiji Court of Appeal since the events of December 2006.
The IBA has over 30,000 members consisting of over 195 bar associations and law societies from all over the world.