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Fiji chief justice criticizes Australia, New Zealand over judicial travel restrictions

[JURIST] Fijian Chief Justice Anthony Gates issued a statement [text] on Sunday criticizing the Australian and New Zealand governments for placing travel restrictions on Fijian officials including the judiciary. The controversy began [New Zealand Herald report] last month when a Fijian judge was granted an expedited visa from the New Zealand High Commission in Fiji [official website] for a child that required international medical assistance. Gates believes that the inclusion of the judiciary in such travel restrictions is a mistake. He said:

Those policies have been formulated in response to the military take-over in Fiji of December 2006 and the abrogation of the Constitution of April 2009. One of those policies of action adopted by Australia and New Zealand is to impose travel bans on a list of persons which have included the military, Government ministers, senior civil servants, Directors of statutory bodies, and Judges and Magistrates.

Gates went on to point out that judges and magistrates are not appointed by the interim government, but rather by the president of Fiji. Both the Australian and New Zealand High Commissions have denied [FBC report] refusing visas to members of the Fijian judiciary. The Fijian government backed the chief justice's statements by expelling [FBC report] the Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners from Fiji.

The international community has been at odds with the Fijian government since the December 2006 military coup [JURIST report]. In September, the Commonwealth of Nations [official website] suspended Fiji [JURIST report] after the country failed to meet the September deadline for reinstating a constitutional democracy and opening a national dialogue. Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith [official profile] criticized [text] the current regime for human rights abuses, including, among other things, the independence of the judiciary. In August, Gates announced that Fiji was seeking foreign judges to replace judicial officers whose appointments were revoked after an April suspension [JURIST reports] of the country's constitution. The suspension came after the Court of Appeal of Fiji ruled [JURIST report] that the country's appointment of a military government following the coup was unconstitutional and must be immediately replaced.

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