BY KEITH JACKSON
PRIME MINISTER PETER O’NEILL last night invoked the concept of a “people’s government” to defend the introduction of new laws that he says “define and impose clarity on judicial behavior that the wider community [may] perceive as biased.”
In a nationwide address following demonstrations against the laws in the streets of Port Moresby on Friday, Mr O’Neill admitted that some of the laws made by his government “may seem harsh and vindictive at first impression in the eyes of critics and opponents.”
But he said that “judges – like any public servants - are employees of the people and the nation. They can be disciplined if there is reasonable evidence of ethical and professional lapse...
“In a nutshell, our people’s parliament has made a new law to define the judicial behavior in relation to the conduct of judges.
“This law is definitely not a political tool for usurping the impartiality of judges or for eroding the letter, intent and spirit of judicial and justice administration,” he said.
Mr O’Neill began his address by restating his view that “governments and prime ministers cannot be installed in office by the courts – especially not by the judiciary.
“Judges of our national and supreme courts have no jurisdiction to decide, appoint and install a government or a prime minister to office.”
He said the new law “is not draconian and does not erode the impartiality of the judges as voiced by critics, including the usual two or three publicity-seeking members of the PNG Law Society.”
He claimed that Australia, India, Canada and other Commonwealth nations had similar laws. “We are not alone here.”
Mr O’Neill said the government “appreciated intervention in the public interest” by students of the University of Papua New Guinea in relation to the judicial conduct law.
“However, let me say that our people’s government does not have a fight with the nation’s judiciary.
“The people’s parliament has put into written law what was - until last Wednesday – a mere understanding and belief which we all took for granted that every judge on the national and supreme court is free of bias and prejudice.”
But he went on to say: “Judges are human beings with emotions. They have feelings, biases and prejudices. They have families, relatives, tribesmen, and school and college friends too.
“Why would they not be biased and prejudiced one way or another when any of their family or friends has a court case that comes before them?”
See transcript of the full address below