By JEFFREY ELAPA
THE government yesterday muscled the Judicial Conduct Bill through parliament,drawing an outcry of criticism from opposition politicians, church leaders and a non-governmental organisation, The National reports.
The law, introduced on Tuesday and passed three times by a vote of 63-7 yesterday, gave parliament the power to refer a judge to the governor-general who, in turn, must appoint a tribunal to investigate the judge who would be suspended from duty.
The government said the law would “promote the integrity of our legal system based on the principle that an independent, fair and competent judiciary shall interpret and apply the laws that govern us”.
It gave a set of nine “impartiality” rules judges must obey, the breaching of which will allow parliament to make a referral to the governor-general.
The speed at which the bill was passed drew a mixed reaction from MPs mindful of the several political and judicial tests over the past eight months.
The only parliamentarians who voted against the bill were Enga Governor Peter Ipatas, Middle Ramu MP Ben Sembri, Aitape-Lumi MP Patrick Pruiatch, West Sepik Governor Simon Solo, opposition leader Dame Carol Kidu, Southern Highlands Governor Anderson Agiru and Tambul-Nebliyer MP Benjamin Poponawa.
Tari-Pori MP James Marape did not to take part in the voting.
The clerk then had to come back and ask him whether he would vote for or against the bill and he said that since majority had voted for the bill he would also vote for it.
The law is retrospective to last Nov 1.
During debate, Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah said the Constitution had not been tested and it was about time it was tested to suit present day requirements.
He said under section 284, parliament had wider powers and could make laws to control and safeguard the judiciary.
He said judges were issuing permanent restraining orders like hot cakes and alleged that many of them were collaborating with politicians to obtain restraining orders.
He claimed there was systematic judicial corruption and by passing the law, the country will have a transparent judiciary.
Hagen MP William Duma said one or two judges were dragging the judiciary down and the law was needed to safeguard and promote the integrity of the legal system.
Dame Carol said: “We are taking a wrong way. We are breaking the fabric of the Constitution and I am really worried for the future of PNG.”
The government’s move is being interpreted as a broadside against the nation’s chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia, following the leaking of court documents and the quashing of an investigation into his financial dealings.
Dame Carol told journalists she was in little doubt the government would move quickly to oust Sir Salamo.
“I think that will happen very quickly.”
She said it removed vital checks and balances and placed total power in one arm of government.
“If checks and balances are not working, we are in an executive dictatorship,” she said.
“It is not in the interests of PNG remaining a truly democratic country.
“We will have judges afraid to toe the line.”