Court decisions and the fickle social media.

By PNG Echo

Prime Minister Peter O’Neill – a big day in court

The PNG courts, yesterday, (Tuesday 23rd February) handed down two decisions in cases where the Prime Minister was the plaintiff. It was a day of mixed legal fortunes for him.

The first case decided in the National Court and presided over by Justice Colin Makail, was regarding contempt, allegedly committed by Koim. It was dismissed because of a procedural technicality. It was only a momentary and pyrrhic victory for Koim as the court informed the plaintiff that he was still free to bring a charge of contempt against Koim (using correct procedure) – which he is believed to be doing (according to lawyer Tiffany Twivey who said so in open court).

Justice Bernard Sakora
Justice Bernard Sakora

The second was in the Supreme Court where a one-man bench presided over by Justice Bernard Sakora granted the Prime Minister leave to appeal a lower court decision to join Police Officers, Damaru and Gitua to judicial review proceedings. The judicial review is seeking to establish the legality (or not) of the arrest warrant on the Prime Minister authorized by the Chief Magistrate. This latter proceeding was also stayed to allow the first case to be decided.

Social media in conflict with itself

On one hand, social media is hailing Justice Makail as the peoples’ champion and the judiciary as the saviour of Papua New Guinea and on the other bringing into question the integrity of the judiciary because of the unpopular decision of Justice Sakora (even going as far as to impugn his honesty)

Koim - still liable to be charged for contempt
Koim – still liable to be charged for contempt

While social media sees issues through the prism of ‘popularity’ – a popular decision being a correct one (even in law) according to them, there will remain considerable internal conflict and confusion

And it won’t improve – for while Justice Makail may be today’s hero – he may be tomorrow’s villain – if and when he presides over the actual issue of Koim’s alleged contempt – depending on his finding.

Justice Salika

Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika
Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika

It’s happened before with the Deputy Chief Justice Gibbs Salika when he found Jimmy Maladina guilty.

Social media hailed Justice Salika as a hero – his popularity with this demographic soared. This writer was threatened with a ridiculous charge of sedition for criticising the decision. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that judicial decisions were impeccable and were to be accepted and were not to be questioned.

So pleased were this demographic at the decision (however it was reached) that anonymous writers took to drastic measures not to have it criticised – including threatening this writer (the main critic of the decision) and exalting Sam Koim to have me arrested – notwithstanding that Koim does not and did not have that power. I was labelled, amusingly, as public enemy No 1. (Does this seem a little Quixotic to you?)

But there were tears before bedtime when the newly exalted hero did not impose a sufficiently popularly punitive sentence on Maladina – indeed some would have it that the penalty was nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Yesterday’s rooster had become a feather duster.

Criticising the judiciary

Justice is blind

Judges are not infallible but most good ones do not succumb to ‘singing for the choir’ (so to speak). Justice should be blind – it is the principles of law and justice with which they should be concerned – not becoming the next pin-up boy/girl for social media’s delectation.

It is healthy to assess and critique decisions coming out of the courts – it is neither healthy nor intelligent to decide on the merits of the decision based on blind loyalty to the subject of judicial scrutiny.

Law is not a popularity contest.

It would also bode well if social media would acquaint itself with the facts before commenting. No, Makail’s decision was not a triumph for Sam Koim – he won nothing except a delay in the prosecution.

Likewise for the Prime Minister – the cases have not been won but he has been granted leave to appeal an earlier decision where his lawyers allege the court had erred. It is just one step in the long and tedious process that is western law – and now the law of Papua New Guinea.

Social media has recognized itself as the country’s elite stratum – the country’s intellectuals… on the strength of the analysis and comments emanating from the most popular Facebook sites, this demographic has not moved substantially from being ‘Mangi (meri) ples’.

In Western government/law it is not the person but the principle that is important – this is a lesson that is being resisted by many – not least of all in the social media demographic.

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