The court speaks – but some people just hear what they want to hear.

By PNG Echo

You can't disobey a direct court order, but we'll cooperate with you all we can.  Courts attitude to the Commissioner of Police
You can’t disobey a direct court order, but we’ll cooperate with you all we can. Courts attitude to the Commissioner of Police

October 2 Waigani: PNG Supreme Court in its recent judgement has reinforced the powers of the Commissioner of Police who it has stated is responsible for organization, superintendence and control of the Police Force.

The judgment emphasized that, as a disciplinary force, the duty of a police officer was to obey orders of superiors – top of the command chain being the Commissioner of Police.

So, no, a police officer can’t run his own race according to whim, personal prejudices or how he chooses to interpret the constitution…. and thank goodness for that – the alternative is a recipe for anarchy!  RPNGC would need to be renamed, the undisciplined force. The learned Justices of the Supreme Court would never sanction such a notion.

It was only on one question of a dozen or more where the court found an exception to the ultimate authority of the Police Commissioner over his men and that was in the event that there was an arrest warrant that was written so as to constitute an ‘order’ from the court (rather than just an administrative document) and in that instance the courts powers of command trumped those of the Commissioner.

In normal circumstances this is an unlikely event as the Police Commissioner has the ultimate authority over who to arrest and prosecute (once again, reinforced by the courts findings) – so should it be against the Commissioner’s better judgment, as this one seems to be on O’Neill, the warrant would never have been put before the courts.

There’s the hierarchy – the chain of command, the Courts, then Commissioner and down through the ranks.

But even this overrule of the Commissioner by the courts comes with a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Commissioner.

Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki - court has stated and reinforced that he is the ultimate authority - save for the courts.
Police Commissioner Geoffrey Vaki – court has stated and reinforced that he is the ultimate authority – save for the courts.

For while the courts could not sanction a Police Commissioner disobeying a court order, the constitution gave him redress to go to the courts and have the warrant withdrawn. In other words they have preserved the Commissioner’s actual authority without ceding any of their own powers.

So, in the current scenario (which I doubt would ever have been envisaged) it will be a case of who moves the quickest – the police who are hellbent on executing the warrant or the Commissioner of Police who will go back to the courts (or order an underling to do so) and have it withdrawn?

But make no mistake those who are gloating over the fact that the Commissioner of Police cannot interfere with his police force executing a warrant of arrest (well, some of the warrants) are living in Lala land. This is no victory at all. The courts have merely said, “we can’t have you countermanding our directives, Mr Commissioner – but just ask us nicely and we will give you whatever you want..” (Including an order withdrawing the warrant.)

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One thought on “The court speaks – but some people just hear what they want to hear.

  1. That makes sense Susan. The game just had a time-out for the referee to remind the players of the rules. Then he says “time back on!”

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