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Judges quit over Gates

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

THE six remaining expatriate judges of the Fiji Court of Appeal have resigned, citing concerns about how Chief Justice Anthony Gates is handling administrative matters.

In a statement yesterday, Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum said he and Justices Ian Barker, Tony Ford, Bruce McPherson, Peter Penlington and Robert Philip Smellie had resigned as judges of the appeals court.

They said acting Chief Justice Anthony Gates had taken the administration of the court out of their hands.

"He had not consulted them (the outgoing judges) about the sittings held last week and had not even had the courtesy to ask about their availability," the judges said.

"Nor had he taken up the offer made by the court's senior judge to arrange a court in November, when the next scheduled sittings were to take place."

The judges said it was apparent to them that their services were no longer wanted and they decided the appropriate course was to resign.

They have handed in their resignation to President Ratu Josefa Iloilo.

The judges said they had served Fiji to the best of their ability, in most cases for many years.

They said they regretted that a connection they all valued should end in this way.

Justice Gates said he had not seen a copy of the statement by Justice Eichelbaum.

He said it was a matter for each judge whether he wished to continue.

He said the judge's decisions must be respected and they were to be thanked for their past service to Fiji.

"However, the Court of Appeal will continue as it always has, though individual judges may change," Justice Gates said.

"I am confident that the Bar and the public will be well served by the appellate courts in the months and years ahead."

Last Monday, three local judges sat in the second Court of Appeal session.

Justice Isikeli Mataitoga, Justice Davendra Pathik and Justice John Byrne sat in the one-week session that looked at six cases.

Justice Gates said earlier all three were High Court judges who were also members of the Court of Appeal by virtue of the Constitution.

"There is no constitutional requirement that a president be a member of a particular court to hear an appeal," he said.

A Court of Appeal president is yet to be appointed.

Justice Gates said a new president would be appointed in due course.

He said this session of the Court of Appeal comprised of resident judges only.

Normally, judges come in from Australia and New Zealand for the three Court of Appeal sessions every year.

Earlier, the Fiji Law Society said there was nothing wrong with local judges sitting in the Fiji Court of Appeal.

Society president, Devanesh Sharma said gazetting of the judges' names could be done at the last minute.

Mr Sharma said the law stated that judges who sat in a case in a lower court were not expected to hear the case in the Appeal's Court.

The first Court of Appeal's session in June saw three expatriates sitting in.

The judges included Justice Peter Pelington, Justice Bruce McPherson and Justice Anthony Ellis.

Justice Ellis died recently.

The first session was moved ahead by a month because it was believed there would not be enough judges for the Court of Appeal session in July.

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