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Supreme Court judge Sakora charged with judicial corruption

Bernard Sakora at Boroko Police Station (ABC)ERIC TLOZEK | Australian Broadcasting Corporation

ANTI-corruption police in Papua New Guinea have arrested one of the country's top judges and charged him with judicial corruption.

Police said Supreme Court judge Bernard Sakora accepted a K100,000 kina payment in 2009 from a company linked to Paul Paraka Lawyers, a law firm accused of defrauding the PNG government of millions of dollars via inflated legal bills.

The director of PNG's National Fraud and Anti-Corruption Directorate, Matthew Damaru, said his officers came across the payment while investigating the complex and long-running case.

"The arrest is a result of ongoing investigations to the payment of legal bills to Paul Paraka Lawyers where this payment to the judge was discovered and the investigation conducted into the payment made," he said.

"He [Bernard Sakora] denied receiving the money."

The 68-year-old has presided over several cases related to the payment of those bills and involving Paul Paraka Lawyers.

Sakora issued an injunction in 2010 in favour of Paul Paraka and former solicitor-general Zacchary Gelu banning the implementation and publication of the report of a Commission of Inquiry into fraudulent legal bills charged to the government.

In February 2016, he issued a stay order preventing anti-corruption officers from executing an arrest warrant for Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, who is accused of authorising a $30 million payment to Paul Paraka Lawyers.

The anti-corruption officers had been prevented from investigating several key figures in the legal bills case — including the prime minister — by a series of blanket court injunctions.

But the PNG Supreme Court discharged those on April 5 when it dismissed an appeal from the prime minister and finance minister.

The prime minister's lawyer, Tiffany Twivey, has sought leave to apply to set aside that ruling, but anti-corruption police have also brought her in for questioning.

They told the ABC, Ms Twivey had not been arrested, but was being interviewed in relation to the many legal applications she had made to prevent them executing their arrest warrant for the prime minister.

Hon Justice Bernard Sakora

Education: Tertiary Ipswich Grammar School; University of Papua New Guinea (LlB); London University (LlM); Australian National University (PhD)

Career: Legal Officer, Department of Justice (1974-81); Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Papua New Guinea (1981-92); Justice, National and Supreme Courts (1993-present)


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John K Kamasua

If found guilty he must be sent to jail to make an example out of him.

Bomana awaits!

William Dunlop

Chris, well spoken but bloody alarming in the extreme. Greed and avarice continue to rear their ugly heads in PNG. My heart bleeds for the populace.

Chris Overland

This case has the gravest possible implications for democracy in PNG, far exceeding the political and legal machinations surrounding, for example, the rise of Peter O'Neill as Prime Minister or even the infamous Sandline Affair.

To be a viable democracy PNG or, in fact, any country, must be governed according to what is called the doctrine of the separation of powers.

This doctrine divides the institutions of government into three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The legislature makes the laws; the executive put the laws into operation; and the judiciary interprets the laws.

Like Australia and its constituent states, PNG has a Parliament that is supposed to operate according to this doctrine.

It is already the case that the line between the legislative and executive functions has become blurred owing to the fact that the party that controls the legislature (Parliament) invariably carries out the functions of the executive arm of government.

However, in the case of bicameral Parliaments like Australia's, there exist two separate legislative bodies. These take the form of a House of Lords in the UK or a Senate in the USA and Australia, which the executive arm frequently cannot control.

This can lead to serious obstruction to the functions of government at times but, generally speaking, works to reduce the risk of ill thought out or simply bad legislation being passed

Regrettably, Australia and PNG's founding fathers decided to give PNG a unicameral Parliament, where there is only one legislative body. There is thus no effective brake upon PNGs' politicians if they decide to pass bad laws.

For this reason, the third branch, the judiciary, must serve as the last bastion of defence against unconstitutional and ill considered law making.

To allow it to do this, the judiciary enjoys complete independence from the other branches, with its members having basically unfettered discretion in how they interpret and apply the law.

Typically, the only way a Supreme Court or High Court Judge can be removed from office is through an Act of Parliament. I cannot recall this happening in my lifetime although some very few resignations have effectively been forced where judicial incompetence or misconduct has been proved.

The most senior judicial officers such as Supreme Court Justices enjoy enormous prestige and power. All around the world, their influence upon the governance of a country can be and often is very profound.

Appointments to the High Courts of Australia, Canada, the USA and the UK are scrutinised very closely indeed to ensure that only the very best legal minds are considered.

Bearing this in mind, the fact that Justice Sakora has been charged with misconduct is a very disturbing development. Even more disturbingly, his alleged misconduct pertains to cases of major political and constitutional significance.

If these allegations are proved, then it will be evidence that the rampant corruption within the PNG polity extends even into the ranks of the judiciary.

This would be a truly catastrophic development for PNG. The last bastion against the depredations of venal and corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen will have failed, leaving the country to the mercy of those who care nothing for the rule of law.

Such countries can swiftly collapse into a seething morass of competing groups for whom intimidation, theft, violence and murder are mere tools of trade. There are many hideous examples of this right now all around the world.

Papua New Guinea is truly at a cross roads: if it cannot rely upon the integrity of the judiciary who can it rely upon?

If it cannot maintain a viable democracy based upon the rule of law then what other form of government will arise?

I may well be characterised as alarmist and engaging in worst case thinking here, but I think this is exactly what is now necessary amongst all Papua New Guineans who care about their futures and those of their children.

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