The National – Friday, December 17, 2010
PAPUA New Guinea’s third most-senior judge (by experience and appointment) Justice Mark Sevua is being “forced” to retire on Jan 6, – over what is speculated within the judiciary to be the result of in-house “personal” disagreements by those in authority to hire and fire judges.
According to sources within the judiciary who have revealed this fiasco, the refusal to approve Sevua’s request for extension of his term for another six years by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) had not stated to him their reasons for his discontinuation.
This move to “force” out a senior judge would be contrary to the PNG judiciary’s new policy shift towards encouraging aging judges, from retiring.
The current retiring age of sitting judges is 60 years.
And, upon the judge’s own request, is usually extended by five years.
According to court records, such extensions of serving judges from aged 60 to 65 years service as judges, has been done in the last three years, of about six judges, five of whom are currently serving.
Last August, parliament announced the retirement age for judges would be extended to 72 years; and this was openly acclaimed and announced by the chief justice towards the end of last year and again early this year at the occasion of appointments of new judges.
The chief justice stated then that the judiciary and, therefore the National and Supreme courts, would endeavour to maintain their current experienced judges while vigorously recruiting more judges to contribute to the fast-tracking of the ever-increasing number of court cases.
The CJ had also stated then that replacement of experienced sitting judges whose savvy when they retired at the current retirement age of 60 was irreplaceable – the main reasons for the government’s moves to extend the retirement age to 72.
However, this has yet to be enacted.
The National has been reliably informed that Sevua wrote to the JLSC seeking reappointment on July 6, 2010.
However, chairman of the JLSC, then minister for Justice and Attorney- General Ano Pala, replied on Sept 28, that the JLSC’s meeting of that same day resolved not to award his extension.
No reasons were given, as to why Sevua’s request for extension by another five years was denied.
It is understood that this is the main reason why Sevua is understood to be very unhappy which could resort to a judicial review of that decision, soon.
Mainly, as a matter of principle because no reasons were given to him and that they should have done so. “Not that I want them to extend my term,” he is understood to have said.
Meanwhile, on receipt of that letter of refusal, Sevua had on Oct 18, tendered his resignation from carrying out his regular duties but to finalise his outstanding court decisions.
In that process, he told the JLSC: “I feel I have been unfairly and unreasonable treated, and the public has the right to know of your decision, and what appears to be the politicising of this noble institution, and the issues of extension of judges’ terms of appointment, and let the public be the judge…”
Sevua has been a judge for almost 18 years. He was appointed acting judge on Feb 11, 1993 for six months and officially took up office in March of that year.
He became a substantive judge of the National and Supreme courts with 10 years extension on Aug 6, 1993; and reappointed for another 10-year term on Aug 28, 2003; which means that his 10-year term, technically, would expire on 2013, but because the retirement age of judges is currently at 60, any extension to that must be endorsed by the JLSC.
Pala was contacted for comments and promised to return calls by this paper after speaking with the others, but did not do so, at the time the paper went to press.