The Fiji regime’s decision to take over issuing practising certificates for lawyers in Fiji is "very disturbing", the president of the New Zealand Law Society, John Marshall, QC, said today, May the 25th.
By a decree dated Friday 22 May, the Fiji government has ruled that the Chief Registrar of the Court, a government employee, will take over issuing practising certificates from the Fiji Law Society. The decree says that all existing certificates will expire by the end of June and that lawyers will have to seek renewal from the Registrar before then.
Mr Marshall said the move was a very serious attack on the independence of the legal profession in Fiji and was of considerable concern.
“An independent legal profession is a vital element of the rule of law. The legal profession represents individuals in claims against the State and defends them in criminal cases brought by the State. Lawyers must be independent of State interference to be able to represent clients freely and fearlessly.
“In New Zealand, the Law Society issues practising certificates to lawyers. The Fiji Law Society has done the same for the last 12 years. We are very concerned to learn that the Fiji Government, through the Chief Registrar, will now decide who should hold a practising certificate.
“We will be watching the situation very closely and we will be extremely concerned if there is any suggestion that lawyers who oppose the regime, or who act for clients who bring cases against it, are being refused practising certificates,” he said.
“The New Zealand Law Society is also very concerned about the process by which these and other wide ranging changes to the regulation of Fiji’s legal profession have been made. There was no consultation, simply the issuing of the decree. Then, at the weekend representatives of the regime arrived at the Fiji Law Society offices to remove files relating to complaints, which, under the decree, will now also be handled by the Registrar."
Scoop and Pacific Media Watch