Chief justice suspended

Main Stories, National

The National, Friday 11th November 2011

CHIEF Justice Sir Salamo Injia has been suspended and a tribunal appointed to investigate allegations of gross misconduct against him.
Instruments effecting the suspension, a first for Papua New Guinea in its 36 years as a sovereign nation, had been signed by Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio and gazetted (Gazette No. G316 of Nov 10, 2011).
Announcing the National Executive Council decision yesterday, shortly after cabinet met, acting Prime Mi­nister Belden Namah said the allegations raised against the chief justice dated back to 2009 and had nothing to do with the East Sepik Supreme Court reference, a statement re-affirmed by Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat.
The opposition and the PNG Law Society immediately cried foul, saying the government was undermining the judiciary and the office of the chief justice (stories, page 2).
NEC sources last night said the suspension did not affect Sir Salamo’s post as the chair of the five-judge Supreme Court bench hearing the East Sepik reference case, of which a decision is expected on Dec 9.
Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika was appointed acting chief justice while Justice Bernard Sakora would be acting deputy chief justice pending the tribunal report.
Members of the tribunal appointed to investigate the allegations against Sir Salamo were former judge Paul Akuram as chairman with justices Collin Makail and George Manuhu as members.
Namah, flanked by his cabinet ministers, told reporters that the allegations against the chief justice stemmed from complaints by the various sectors of the community and the government needed to act “to prevent further negative impact on the dignity, confidence and integrity of the judiciary”.
Government advisers also warned last night that it was “in the interest of the government and people of PNG that the matter is handled cautiously and with due care and attention because these serious allegations are levelled against a very senior member of the judiciary”.
“It is unprecedented and an informed decision is needed to minimise any disruption to the administration of justice in Papua New Guinea.”
Namah said among the grounds for suspension were the allegations of contempt charges, questionable conduct and double dipping, abuse of the salaries and remuneration commission determinations towards housing entitlements and gross mismanagement of court finances.
Other charges included misconduct and impropriety in office, practising double standards and condoning immoral behaviour of judges and corrupting, scandalising and bringing into disrepute the overall administration of the judiciary, its system and processes.
Citing a police report, Namah said Sir Salamo was facing contempt charges, along with the former registrar of the Supreme and National Courts Ian Augerea, for breaching contempt orders concerning entitlements relating to the estate property of the late judge, Justice Timothy Hinchliffe.
He said before the death of Hinchliffe in March 2009, the judge had signed a document pertaining for his will to his adopted son, Timothy Moere Sari (Jr).
Despite the cheque being cleared and paid to Sari, Sir Salamo was said to have verbally directed Augerea to recall the cheque.
“Thereafter, the cheque in question was cancelled causing presiding judge Justice Mark Sevua, who granted the Grand of Probate Order, to question why the cheque was recalled and cancelled.”
Namah said when police were in the process of interviewing Augerea and the chief justice, they took out a permanent restraining order.
“The matter had been pending.
 “There is only one law for all citizens and nobody is immune to prosecution if they breach these laws,” Na­mah said.