NATION

Testing Limits In Courts Needed For Change: A-G

Fiji does not have a plethora of jurisdiction on human rights cases but that can be changed if more citizens test the laws in court. This was one of messages
03 Dec 2016 11:00
Testing  Limits In Courts Needed For Change: A-G
The director for Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission and Media Industry Development Authority’s (MIDA) chairperson Ashwin Raj makes his point during the Annual Public Forum at Pasifika Campus in Suva yesterday. Photo: Paulini Ratulailai

Fiji does not have a plethora of jurisdiction on human rights cases but that can be changed if more citizens test the laws in court.

This was one of messages of Acting Prime Minister and Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum at an annual public forum – a panel discussion on implementing the Bill of Rights, Is the Fijian Bill of Rights Divisible? last night at the Fiji National University Pasifika Campus in Suva.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum delivered the closing remarks at the forum, which was funded by the European Union and hosted by the Fiji National University in partnership with Citizens Constitutional Forum and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.

Panellists at the forum were Director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Ashwin Raj, a Member of Parliament and veteran journalist Matai Akauola, femlink co-ordinator Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls and lawyer Richard Naidu.

Robust discussions took place as panellists shared their thoughts on the Fijian Bill of Rights.

Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said Fiji has had very few cases testing the Constitution brought before the Courts, adding that perhaps lawyers could turn to the courts to clear any uncertainty on definitions on specific  limitations of rights.

“We have the court systems that actually provide that answer to you on the interpretation of the laws and limitations,” he said.

 

Other panellists comments:

Mr Raj said that the Bill of Rights was the soul of the Constitution and the conscience of a nation.

He said that the independent workings of different institutions such as the Police and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has shown time and again that people could find recourse in the court system.

Mr Naidu spoke at length about the indivisibility of rights and highlighted the case of biology students in Labasa who were given zero marks during an examination by the Ministry of Education and how they had taken the matter to court. He claimed that despite a court order that the Education Ministry start fresh inquiry into the matter, nothing had been done.

However, Education Minister Mahendra Reddy, when questioned late last night by the Fiji Sun on the matter, revealed: “He (Mr Naidu) is the main obstacle.

“The court ordered us to go over the process again and we started the investigation again.

“Some students cannot be reached, while some don’t want to continue.

“Others turned up and we interviewed them.

“However Richard Naidu kept on interfering and kept on saying that they were appealing the process. That’s where the matter is.”

When discussions turned to the Media Decree, Mr Akauola said many of those who were critical of the decree were in fact outside of the media industry. He called for dialogue and engagement.

Edited by Rusiate Mataika

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