Urgent rethink on accountability and independence in Tonga
The Women and Children Crisis Centre calls for an urgent re-think in light of the resignation of the Attorney General John Cauchi.
The centre supports the resignation of the Attorney General as a brave move to highlight the reduced level of accountability and transparency in Tonga.
Former Attorney general John Cauchi was appointed in May 2009 as the first AG that was not concurrently the Minister of Justice. The independent role was developed to strengthen the separation of powers under the democratic reform that the Tongan government is currently undertaking.
However Cauchi’s resignation indicated that the Government’s commitment to independence is ‘highly qualified’ – meaning that it must be on the Government’s terms. This was illustrated by:
· The Government appointing a Judge that was not approved by the Attorney General or the Judicial Services Commission
· The Government taking steps to abolish The Judicial Services Commission and repeal the Judicial Services Commission Act
“It is clear the Government is committed to judiciary independence in theory only and not in practice. And really, what is the point of that?” said Ofakilevuka Guttenbiel-Likiliki
“Independence and the fusion of powers strengthens the principles in our constitution. It strengthens the checks and balances in place to ensure that each part of the existing system – the executive, judiciary and legislative assembly including the media as we commemorate Media Freedom this week – fulfill their roles in providing accountability and transparency for Tonga. An independent judiciary in Tonga is something we should be embracing – not pretending to embrace.”
The Crisis Centre is gravely concerned about the implications of returning to a system that does not embrace the core elements of Tonga’s constitution, especially as it has flow on effects for women and children.
“For years we have had a legislative assembly that answers to government. And for years, we have seen women and children made even more vulnerable by existing laws, it’s obvious from the number of people who report domestic violence and assaults. The Centre viewed the move towards judicial independence as a chance to create law that was free from the constraints of the Government – and what a shame to see that the commitment to this critical idea is non-existent”
The staff of WCCC calls for the role of the Attorney General to remain independent from the Ministry of Justice and for the Judicial Services Commission and the Judicial Services Commission Act to remain in place.
Judicial independence is critical in our move towards achieving democracy and should be protected at all costs. The maintenance of the independence of the judiciary is a real, live, practical matter which all judicial officers must guard jealously. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
“This is exactly what Cauchi has done and as responsible citizens of Tonga we need to ensure that under no circumstances shall we fall short of achieving this freedom ” says Guttenbeil-Likiliki.