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Police powers should apply across Fiji

Wednesday 11 November 2015 | Published in Regional

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AUCKLAND – An Auckland law professor, Bill Hodge, says unless there is an emergency situation declared, the police in Fiji do have the right to access military installations to carry out arrest warrants.

Fiji prosecutors have said police were denied access to military barracks in order to arrest a military officer wanted for assault and who had already skipped court twice.

The military is disputing the prosecution’s claim, with Fiji’s Land Force Commander Sitiveni Qiliho – now newly-appointed as acting police commissioner saying, “ nobody has free reign walking into military barracks”.

“It doesn’t happen even there in New Zealand nor does the police have free access into New Zealand military camps? I doubt it.”

However, New Zealand legal expert Professor Hodge said the police should have the right to access the barracks and the law applies across the land.

“There is no doubt that – unless you have a military dictatorship, and there is certainly some symptoms of that – that the rule of law applies across the land in Fiji.

“And the rule of law applies on a military reservation, it applies on a military base, and the police as representatives of a constitutional authority have jurisdiction to enforce, carry out search warrants and arrest warrants.

“There would usually be a courtesy – my experience in the military leads me to say there would be a courtesy that if the police say, ‘we want so and so, we’ve got a warrant’, then the military authority would produce that person and hand that person over for justice in the system.

“But it sounds like they’re carving out a region and a doctrine of immunity, or being above and not subject or outside the ordinary legal system which is anathema to the rule of law as we understand it.”

Prof Hodge said there would have to be special circumstances that would entitle the military to disallow the police access to the barracks.

“There would have to be some sort of state of emergency.

“When a soldier beats up a civilian or tortures a possible criminal or civilian or someone escaping, that is subject to the rule of the land, the rule of law and the ordinary courts and the ordinary police.

“So unless there is some survival of some state of emergency, which exempts a military reservation– and I’m not completely clear that all such regulations from the days of emergency have been done away with – but otherwise the military reservation is part of Fiji and subject to the law of Fiji.

The military has recently hired three police accused of assault, including a person accused of rape.

Professor Hodge was asked if there was a possibility that the military could try to claim these people have some sort of immunity.

“I would hate to see the military go down that route. That analysis sounds like the military are trying to drape a cloak of immunity over people who were not military at the time and retrospectively develop a concept of immunity – even if there is some sort of immunity.

“Now an interpretation could be they are draping those former constables with a military cloak of immunity .”

- Dateline Pacific