Media attacks on judges unacceptable: Soma


PRESIDENT of the Solomon Islands Bar Association (SIBA) Eran Soma has raised disappointment over reports published in the media attacking judges over particular decisions.

Soma said such personal attacks are unacceptable and uncalled for because they undermine the independence of the judiciary, which is crucial to democratic government on which we all rely for our individual and collective freedoms.

The SIBA president was speaking at the opening of the 2021 Legal Year, Tuesday.

He said judges have a sworn and difficult duty to administer justice according to law and they should be allowed to perform that duty unhindered by personal attacks in the media or elsewhere.

“If it is thought that a particular decision is wrong, then in most cases, there is an avenue of appeal available to disappointed litigants,” Soma said.

“If it is thought that the law is wrong, then it is open to Parliament to change it,” he added.

“Further, if it is alleged that the conduct of a judge in performance of his or her duties was illegal or goes to his or her fitness for office, then there is a remedy under s.80 of the Constitution.

“Therefore, it is very important for journalists, reporters and the public to understand that there are legal processes in place to deal with one’s disappointment.

“Media insinuation is not one of them.

“I wish to emphasise the Bar Association’s commitment and support for our judiciary which has a longstanding reputation for independence and impartiality.”

Chief Justice Sir Albert Rocky Palmer also highlighted that in 2020, the Judiciary experienced some negative publicity in the media, in the disposal of election petitions.

“Instead of appreciating the court in disposing of all election petitions save one, timely within the 12 months’ time limit, the court continued to be barraged with bad reporting,” Sir Albert said.

“The judges however continued to remain firm and true to their oaths ‘… to do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill-will’ and to discharge their onerous duties to determine disputes that come before them,” he added.

He said maintaining that independence is central to the trust and the public confidence of the community in the work of the courts. 

“Decisions of the courts bind the parties in a case and are enforceable by process of law. 

“They are therefore to be respected by the Government and citizen alike.

“The judiciary is governed by legal and ethical obligations. 

“It determines cases according to law, rules and regulations and the facts that are before it. 

“It does not go beyond what is put before it in court and what the law permits or not permits for it to consider.

“The judiciary is impartial and determines cases according to law, outcomes are legally driven.”

Sir Albert explained that the legislature and the executive in contrast are more open and flexible to the receipt of ideas and may be subject to public opinion and popularity, especially the views of their electorate.

The legislature necessarily focuses on policies and outcomes supported by the executive arm. 

The judiciary on the other hand, focuses on the facts of a case and decides the result on the basis of applying legal principles.

Therefore, he said Judges are required to decide cases in an impartial, fair and independent way. 

The courts are open to the public (“open justice concept”) and judges are required to give reasons for their decisions. 

This requirement is fundamental to the judicial method. 

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