THE Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has called for an independent commission to advice on the appointment of judicial and legal officers.
Lord Fakafanua made the comment yesterday when the House discussed the Act of Constitution Amendment Bill 2014.
One of the proposed amendments was for the Judicial Appointments and Discipline Panel to be replaced by a Judicial and Legal Service Commission to advice on the appointment of judicial and legal officers.
The Bill proposed for a new committee of six members to make recommendation on the appointment of judicial and legal officers. Lord Fakafanua had his reservation about the majority of the committee members’ being selected by Government.
Instead the Speaker proposed for an independent commission independent of any political pressure from Parliament and Cabinet. He suggested considering the system used by the Israeli government.
“Israel is not a monarchial government but their President appoints the Chief Justice at the recommendation of the Israel Judicial Committee. Such Committee is independent and quite similar to the proposed committee suggested in the Bill,” said the Hon. Speaker.
The Commission includes the Chief Justice and another judge, 2 Members of Parliament. , 2 Cabinet Ministers including the Minister of Justice and Attorney General and 2 law practitioners from the Law Society. Such commission is independent and widely represented,” explained the Hon. Speaker.
Lord Fakafanua stated that in New Zealand, the Prime Minister and its Cabinet has no involvement in the appointment of judges.
“The recommendation and advice of such appointment goes from the Attorney General to the Governor General with exception of the Maori Land Court dispute, the advice is from the Maori Affairs Minister,” explained Lord Fakafanua.
He further pointed out no pressure from Cabinet or the Prime Minister in New Zealand in the appointment of the Chief Justice.
Lord Fakafanua also noted that New Zealand has a convention that Attorney General must seek the recommendation of the Chief Justice for any appointment before advising the Governor General.
This he said Tonga should consider involving the Chief Justice in the selection process for he is the Head of Judiciary.
Lord Fakafanua said in Britain, it was not until 2006 its Legislature changed its law allowing an independent commission to advice on such appointment with no direct involvement from Government.
He asserted according to our Tongan Constitution, His Majesty and the Privy Council decides on the land court matters which is quite similar to the system widely used overseas.
The Speaker also emphasized the need for an independent judicial system.
“It is our Judiciary and it needs to be independent. Its independence, integrity, impartiality are much needed to execute its duties efficiently and effectively. These are four measures essential to uphold the rule of law,” he said.
Lord Speaker said the independence of the Judiciary will be compromised should Cabinet appoint judges. He said this could affect the prosecution process.
In Tonga the Attorney General provides legal advice and support for the Government.
Hence, Lord Fakafanua maintained he is advocating a system where judges are free and independent of any political pressure from Parliament and Cabinet
“Judiciary needs to be independent. It is essential for the public confidence in the judicial system,” maintained the Hon. Speaker.
For this reason, he proposed for return of the Bill to Cabinet for further consideration before resubmitting it for later discussion by Parliament.