Justice Gates puts Fiji first

Fiji’s Chief Justice Anthony Gates said he and three other judges who were reappointed yesterday decided to stay on after the dismissal of Fiji’s judiciary last month, to avoid the mistake they made after Fiji’s second military-led coup of 1987.

In a statement after his swearing in by President Ratu Josefa Iloilo yesterday, Justice Gates said the ordinary people of Fiji were left abandoned when the country’ judges and magistrates refused to swear an oath of allegiance in the new order that came into place following Fiji’s second military coup of 1987.

“In colloquial parlance Fiji has had five coups,” said Justice Gates.

He said his approach to the task of preserving the judiciary and its independence had changed as a result of the experience of serving as a judicial officer at the time of all five coups.

Justice Gates said he now believed members of the judiciary were wrong in refusing to budge after the second coup of 1987.

“All of us were dismissed. Though we felt we held the moral high ground, the ordinary people of Fiji were left abandoned. It took the continuing Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga many years to restore the numbers and many years more to catch up on backlogs and resources.  The departure of the judges then can only be described as disastrous,” said Justice Gates.

“We would have done better to have continued to serve and to play a crucial role in curbing excesses and in bringing the country and its institutions back to normality.”

He said by staying on this time and with more people coming on board to serve, “from such efforts will emerge a truly independent judiciary and in time a closer approximation to the rule of law than we have had in 20 years or more”.

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