The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption (FICAC) refers to the Fiji Law Society’s (FLS) letter to the Government of Fiji dated 9 February 2021 on Bills No. 1 and 2 of 2021 tabled in Parliament.
In that letter, making reference to the proposed anti-corruption division of the judiciary, FLS states “corruption is not so complex - or so widespread”. This statement by FLS is misconceived and delusional.
To allude that corruption is not widespread is a barren opinion, which obviously neglects the ground reality of the seriousness of corruption that the country is fighting.
Corruption is polycentric and multifaceted. It is the gateway for the occurrences of many other serious crimes including illegal drug importation, tax and customs breaches, fraud and serious financial crimes, money laundering, human trafficking, terrorism and terrorist financing. The impact of corruption to the economy and society at large is irreversibly detrimental.
Corruption cases can also become complex and often require lengthy and cumbersome processes to bring the culprits before the Court of Law. Realization of this important factor has made several countries to change their traditional response to fight economic crimes including fraud and corruption. The introduction of the Serious Fraud Office and the National Economic Crime Centre is the United Kingdom’s response to white-collar crimes and corruption. Likewise, in the United States the National Institute on Economic Crime is responsible for providing specialized training and advice to the relevant law enforcement agencies.
In Fiji, there have been and are many complex corruption cases before the courts to which the Fiji Law Society seems oblivious to.
The notion that a specialized division undermines the diversity of opinions in the judiciary is another misconception. This is not an alien feature to Fiji or any other common law jurisdictions. Family Division of the High Court and Family Division of the Magistrates Court, Court of Review and Tax Court under Customs Act and Tax Administration Act respectively, and Employment Relations Court are examples of having separate specialized divisions within the Fijian judiciary.
In the United Kingdom, the Queen’s Bench Division has 3 specialist courts namely the Commercial Court, the Admiralty Court and the Administrative Court and, the Chancery Division has another 3 specialist courts namely the Companies Court, the Patents Court and the Bankruptcy Court.
In Australia, the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales is a specialist court that hears the environmental, development, building and planning disputes. The Drug Court of New South Wales is another specialist court dealing with certain types of criminal offenders dependent on drugs. Specialist Drug Courts are also common in other countries.
Likewise, New Zealand has several separate judicial bodies dealing with specialized areas of law: Customs Appeal Authority, Immigration and Protection Tribunal, the Land Valuation Tribunal and the Copy Right Tribunal are a few examples.
There are more than 60 countries that have established separate Constitutional Courts to deal with constitutional matters.
There are over 17 countries worldwide that have established specialized anti-corruption courts.
Further, the decisions made by the specialized anti-corruption division can be challenged in appeals in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and also in the apex Supreme Court under the Criminal Procedure Act, the Court of Appeal Act and the Supreme Court Act respectively.
Therefore, FICAC requests that the Fiji Law Society refrain from undermining the real and serious issues of corruption and avoid being a hindrance to any genuine effort put forth by the Government to tackle this serious and complex matter.