Address by Acting Chief Justice Hon. Justice Kamal Kumar at the Magistrates Workshop on 30th September 2020 at Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort and Spa, Fiji
His Excellency Mr. Sujiro Seam, Head of Delegation, European Union for the Pacific
Hon. Madam Justice Wati, Chairperson of NJEC
Ms Julie Vandassen, Technical Advisor, Access to Justice Project – UNDP
Ms Debra Williams, Finance and Administration Associate, Access to Justice Project – UNDP
Ms Tomoko Kashiwazaki, Communications Specialist, Access to Justice Project – EU
Secretariat and IT Staff
I welcome you all to the opening ceremony of 2020 Magistrates Workshop to be held over the next three (3) days.
I have much pleasure in extending a very warm welcome to our Chief Guest His Excellency Mr. Sujiro Seam to this opening ceremony.
Your Excellency, thank you for your kindness in accepting my invitation to address us and to officially open Magistrates Workshop. It has been a pleasure knowing Your Excellency from the time you served as French Ambassador to Fiji. I thank Your Excellency for your support to-date and look forward to your continued support to Judicial Department to ensure that we provide access to justice to members of our community in a transparent, efficient and expeditious manner.
To Honourable Judges, Master Azhar and Magistrates who have been selected to present papers at this Workshop, thank you so much for your effort and commitment. At this point in time, I urge and request Judicial Officers to identify topics they feel will be beneficial to Judges and Magistrates in performance of their duties. Please let NJEC know if you feel there is a need for training on certain issues.
Before I proceed any further I acknowledge Madam Justice Wati and other members of NJEC for their contribution in organizing the topics and their cooperation and support for this workshop. I would also like to express my gratitude and thanks to European Union and UNDP for sponsoring this Workshop. Thank you Your Excellency. For your information, this workshop is funded by EU through Access to Justice Project managed by UNDP. Ms Vandassen and Ms Williams, thank you for working closely with Mr. Eteswa Deo for arranging all the logistics.
At this point in time, I wish to pay homage to and acknowledge the work done by late Honourable Justice Suresh Chandra towards training and the Department as a whole. We will certainly miss his smile, his calmness, his willingness to assist Judges and Magistrates, and of course his singing. His contribution to Fiji Judiciary will always be remembered and cherished by us all. I would also like pay tribute to late Justice Kishore Govind. Most of you may not know him. Late Justice Kishore Govind was also a very charismatic person whose company was never boring. His Lordship served as First Mayor of Ba Town Council, Member of Parliament and Judge in the Criminal Division of High Court from 1985 until 1987 coup. After serving in Federal Prosecution Department and New South Wales Prosecution Department, Australia His Lordship came back as High Court Judge in the year 2002 and retired in 2008. His Lordship passed away on 9 August 2020. I would request all of you to rise and observe a moment of silence for the beloved souls.
One thing we must always take heed of is that an impartial, fair and efficient judiciary is cornerstone of a democratic society. It is in fact a fundamental requirement.
In my message to the graduates who were admitted as Legal Practitioners, I called upon them to perform their duties with integrity and dignity. Same goes for us Judicial Officers as it is our duty to act impartially, fairly and do justice between the parties.
Apart from presiding over cases allocated to you, we must also get ourselves involved in other judicial tasks and functions like Judicial Training for effective operation of Courts.
To enhance public confidence in the judiciary we must ensure that our conduct is beyond reproach in the minds of fair minded and informed person. As to who is fair minded and informed person is a question that needs to be answered. In my view fair minded and informed person is person who knows about facts of the matter and has no political ill-will or self-interest. We must also ensure that our colleagues observe the same standard. You will all agree that Independence of Judiciary is paramount. The hallmark of an independent judiciary is the need to be impartial and need to handle cases without fear, favour, affection or ill-will.
We must not allow our decision to be affected by bias or prejudice on the ground of sex, religion, ethnicity, culture, business, personal or financial interest or any adverse relationship we had with the lawyers or parties prior to joining the bench. Also, we must make sure that our decisions are not influenced by comments made in social media or by rights movement.
We must ensure that our conduct, both inside and out of Court promotes confidence in the judiciary.
During Court proceedings we must act in a professional and dignified manner so as to enhance public confidence in Courts. We must acknowledge the fact that the people turn to Courts when they have issues which they could not solve amicable and as such should be treated fairly and with courtesy.
We have to treat the parties and their Counsel with courtesy and respect. We have heard many times that one must command respect and not demand respect. Therefore if you expect parties and their counsel to be respectful then you must do the same. This does not mean that parties and their Counsel or witnesses can be unruly and rude. You as Judges and Masters have to deal with any unruly behaviours or rudeness promptly and effectively. Even if it means clearing the Court and dealing with lawyer concerned or adjourning the case for a short period (say 15 minutes or so). We must not forget the fact that lawyers who appear before us have same or almost same qualifications as you. Only difference is the role we play.
I hope I have said enough on the way we should conduct ourselves to ensure that we enhance the confidence of the public in the judiciary and the democratic principle of our society.
We are all aware about the drastic effect of COVID-19 towards Court operations. I must thank all the Magistrates for your assistance and contribution in making sure that members of the public who were in urgent need were not deprived of access to justice, by sitting during odd hours including weekends and public holidays, Thank you.
I had to issue 9 directions for the period 19 March to 27 August 2020. These are trying times not only for our Courts but Courts in other jurisdictions as well.
I am glad Courts are fully operational with only issues left is sitting of Full Court of Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
COVID-19 had also put spanner into our project which had to be put on hold. The team responsible for the project are now back in action.
We have commenced working very closely with Construction Implementation Unit of Ministry of Economy, UNDP and EU to improve the Court services facilities so that we can provide access to justice to people of Fiji.
Some of the projects being carried out are:
Video Recording System: You are all aware that Video Recording System is installed in all High Courts in Suva and two Magistrates Courts. We are currently working with EU and UNDP to install VRS in Labasa.
Construction of new Nasinu Court Complex comprising 1 Small Claims Tribunal and other facilities. Should be completed by end of this year as 95% of building work has been completed.
Construction of new Ba Court Complex: Construction work is progressing well.
Construction of four storey Court Complex in Lautoka and substantial renovation to existing High Court building. Due to budget constraints this project is currently on hold. We are still trying to find a way to commence work on this project.
Construction of 2 Temporary Courts at Tagimoucia, Lautoka. Due to certain variations, the tenders are with Government Tender Board.
Installation of E-filing System whereby documents can be filed electronically thus saving time and money. This project will hopefully commence towards the end of the year and is expected to be completed within a year. We have awarded tender and are currently sorting out the terms of contract.
Ramps constructed in Taveuni Court and High Court Lautoka, for people with disabilities.
This is a clear indication of the fact we are trying to bring the Courts closer to the people so that members of the public can have “Access to Justice”.
At this point I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of the day and thank them for acknowledging the need of the Judicial Department. It readily comes to assistance of the Judiciary in terms of construction of new court premises, improving the existing buildings, construction of cell blocks and remand centres of very high standard to name a few.
I must sincerely thank EU and UNDP for providing and managing funds for projects under Access to Justice Programme. The projects funded by EU and managed by UNDP are E-filing System, Installation of Video Recording System in Labasa, Construction of ramps in Taveuni Court and High Court Labasa, Printing of Fiji Law Reports and Printing of Family Law Reports.
Whilst we are in process of improving Court facilities and means of service provision to public we seek your assistance in maintaining the independence of judiciary and maintaining the integrity and dignity of the judicial system.
I say this whenever I have been asked to open a workshop and I repeat myself by saying that we do not expect you to be 100% perfect after this workshop but be able to say “I can perform my duty as a Magistrate better than yesterday.”
I leave you with following quote by Frank M. Johnson Jr.:
“The essential attribute of judicial integrity is a passion for justice informed by a deep and abiding morality, a compassion that propels the judge to a just conclusion even when the party or the issue before the bar is unpopular. …When a judge has the courage of his convictions, a willingness to do what his understanding of the law tells him is right, he can in my view properly be called a judge of integrity.”
[Core Values of an Effective Judiciary; Academy Publishing 2015]
I wish you all an enjoyable and fruitful workshop.
Thank you for listening.
Acting Chief Justice