The Fiji Times » Bar calls on state to withdraw bill

The Fiji Law Society is calling on the government to withdraw Bill 49 – a proposed amendment to the Elections Act – from Parliament so that sufficient time can be given to consider all of its legal and civil ramifications. In a statement, Chairman Wylie Clarke said the company was “deeply concerned” about proposed amendments in Bill 49 currently before the House, amid fears it was likely to pass outright. emergency.

“Society’s particular concern is that the bill unnecessarily attacks citizens’ rights to privacy, including legal professional privilege,” he said.

“The amendment would give the Supervisor of Elections (SoE) the power to compel any person to provide any or all information or documents to him under virtually any pretext.

“Citizens must turn over information ‘notwithstanding the provisions of any other written law of confidentiality, privilege or secrecy.’ Mr Clarke said the proposed changes were inconsistent with the fundamental international values ​​and principles to which Fiji is committed. engaged, including long-established legal principles of legal professional secrecy.

He claimed the proposed changes would erode civil rights protections long protected by law and “unnecessarily expand the comptroller’s powers beyond those necessary to perform his or her duties and powers under election law.

“They are encroaching on and duplicating the investigative powers already vested in FICAC (Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption).

“If the Supervisor reasonably suspects that an offense has been committed under electoral law, he may – as he has done on several occasions – report the matter to FICAC which will then exercise its powers of investigation. “

Mr Clarke said the attack on solicitor-client privilege was particularly serious.

“The reason privilege exists is to allow people to take legal advice on any action they wish to take (or not take) knowing that in doing so they are protected.

“Privilege means that no person in authority can use their questions or the advice they receive as evidence against them of improper or unlawful intent. If this privilege is taken away, people cannot take advice on their legal rights and cannot fully exercise them and may end up breaking the laws.

“Encouraging the rule of law is the practice of democratic countries that uphold the rule of law. Mr Clarke said the company was also very concerned that the bill did not provide any protections or safeguards for information obtained by the SoE as to how it would be used or retained.

. “The Supervisor is not required to maintain confidentiality or secrecy with respect to the information and it appears that such information may be used for any purpose the Supervisor chooses.

“There is no right of appeal against a decision of the Supervisor other than to the Fiji Electoral Commission, which is final and not subject to further appeal.”