When a Supreme and National Court judge decides to literally clean up the filth in the Wabag police cells, the community is obliged to help, writes JULIA DAIA BORE
ENGA province’s resident judge, Justice Graham Ellis last week Sunday got down on his hands and knees to scrub and clean the six cells of Wabag police station.
The Wabag police cells which were condemned by the Health Department in 2007, continues to house up to 40 detainees at a time who await court hearings in Wabag.
In a court decision last month, Justice Ellis said: “To me as a judge, it would be inconsistent to send a person who breaks the law to prison and then ignore the fact that he is in prison in a manner which breaks the law.”
On Sunday Justice Ellis showed up at the police cells with his staff and got down to business.
In a phone interview this week the judge told The National, that they only scrubbed two of the four cells. They would need stronger disinfectants to embark on the scrubbing of the ‘water-less toilet’ on their next clean-up session which is two-Sundays away.
“We had to block our noses, as the stench is unbearable,” Justice Ellis said.
The judge called on anyone in Wabag town who wanted to assist in cleaning the police cells to register their names at the court registry. A roster is being compiled to involve those willing to assist. Cleaning is scheduled for every second Sunday of the month.
Justice Ellis said cleaning and scrubbing the stench-filled cells was so unpleasant a task that he had “decided to show my appreciation by placing the name of each person who helps clean those police cells in a barrel called the ‘pork barrel’.”
Then when the new police cells are eventually constructed, “and it is no longer necessary to clean the existing police cells, I will draw a name out of the pork barrel and that person will be given a pig, already named ‘Porky’.
“I chose a pig in order to provide a reminder of the fact that there are pigs in Enga province who live in better conditions than the existing police cells in Wabag,” the judge said.
Justice Ellis called on Papua New Guineans throughout the country to contact his office to disclose police cells which were also unfit for human habitation.
The judge made the call last Friday when handing down a decision (MP14 of 2010) in the ‘Matter of Enforcement of Basic (Human) Rights under the Constitution of the Independent State of PNG; regarding the lack of correctional service facilities in Enga province’.
“In these circumstances I have decided to do two things.
“First: in order to find out how many other locations in Papua New Guinea have police cells which have been condemned, I would request that any police station commander whose police cells have been condemned by the Health Department, ring the National Court in Wabag on 547 1076 to advise of that fact. That is designed to enable the National Court to become aware of how many other locations that have the same problem since it does not make sense for this problem to be addressed one police station at a time. I have a recollection from when I was on circuit in Kavieng last November that the police cells there have also been condemned by the Health Department. I am interested to know how many locations other than Wabag, that the basic rights provisions of the constitution are being breached.”
“Secondly, in order to do something to minimise the impact of the breaches of the basic rights provisions of the constitution, with the support of members of the staff of the National Court in Wabag, I will be cleaning the police cells in Wabag every second Sunday until new police cells are built.”
The judge said the court in Wabag did not want to interrupt its working week; that, ruled out Monday to Friday. And since one of its staff, “cleaner Alum Kumbi, is a Seventh – Day Adventist we will not be cleaning the police cells on Saturday as we need the benefit of her expertise. That leaves Sunday.
“The cleaning will commence at 1pm so that people can still attend their morning church services on that day.
“It has been said that cleanliness is next to godliness. Consistent with that phrase, people on the roster can seek Godliness on Sunday morning and cleanliness on Sunday afternoon at the police cells in Wabag,” the judge said.
In relation to the need for new police cells in Wabag, the recently deceased provincial police commander, the late superintendent Michael Chare, had expressed the view that “without the court’s intervention in this issue, the current issue will remain unchanged for maybe the next ten to twenty years”.
“For that reason, Porky has not yet been purchased because of the risk that, even if a suckling pig is bought now, he might die of old age before the police cells in Wabag are replaced.” Justice Ellis said.
Justice Ellis urged people who support the need for new police cells in Wabag to put their name on the roster at the registry counter of the Wabag National Court.
“From now on, people calling at the counter of the National Court in Wabag will need to indicate whether they are there for a criminal matter, a civil matter or to put their name on what will be known as ‘the Porky Roster’.”
He pointed out that 31 years ago, in the case of Mathias Peter Joseph Evertz v The State  PNGLR 174 a judge of the National Court used the phrase “integrity of the nation” in relation to the basic rights provisions in the constitution.
“Those words are applicable in relation to the police cells in Wabag because the fact that they have been condemned by the Department of Health more than a year ago means that there is a clear breach of the basic rights provisions of the constitution every time a person is held in those cells.”
“If such breaches of the constitution are ignored then national integrity is damaged because we are not living up to the standards set by the constitution. Further, if we let some parts of the constitution be ignored then where will the process stop? It is plainly not acceptable to observe some parts of the constitution and ignore others. Complying with the constitution of the independent state of Papua New Guinea should not be considered optional: not a matter of when we get around to it or if we feel like it,” Justice Ellis said.
Justice Ellis, an Australian, was a judge in PNG for two years from 1990 to 1992. He served in Rabaul and handed down more than 700 judgments in criminal matters and more than 200 judgments in civil matters in those two years.
In his speech at the ceremonial sitting to welcome him and three other PNG judges on Feb 26 to the bench of 22 permanent judges Justice Ellis said, “With the benefit of the example set by people such as Dame Carol Kidu, they know that you do not have to be born in this country to love this country and to serve the people of this country…..I prefer not to think of myself as a master of the law but as its servant and I am mindful that I am one of the custodians of the high reputation which the judiciary has established in this country. When a party comes into my court, I have to remember that they are not just another plaintiff, another defendant or another accused person because their encounter with me might be their only experience of the court in their life and their perception of my conduct will be their perception of the court. There can be no such thing as ‘just another case’, no matter how many I may hear.
“In addition to my role as a servant of the legal system in this country, I am a salesman, selling a product called the rule of law, where disputes are decided calmly, impartially and in accordance with the laws of Papua New Guinea, a product which people need to accept as being preferable to a system of payback or a system where disputes are decided by the point of a gun or the blade of a bush knife.
Given my current role, there can be no better verse than Micah 6:8 – “He has showed you, O man, what is good and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
And that humility is what Justice Ellis and his court staff are obviously demonstrating when they get down on his hands and knees to clean and scrub the Wabag police cells and toilets for detainees.