Former Justice Minister says Pōhiva’s letter to acting AG “terrifying” and “unwise”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our source of information for this story was Nepituno News (www.nepituno.to). The website interviewed Mr Clive Edwards in Tongan. Kaniva News’ story is based on a translation of Edward’s interview in Tongan.

Tonga’s former Minister of Justice, William Clive Edwards, has blasted a letter issued by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva in which he accused the Acting Attorney General of interfering in a criminal case, saying it was “political,” “terrifying,” “unwise” and “substandard”.

As reported in Kaniva News earlier this week, the Prime Minister wrote to Tonga’s Acting Attorney General, ‘Aminiasi Kefu and demanded he respond to what he described as his “grave concern” over his involvement with a firearms case in which Lord Tuʻilakepa was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay a fine of TP$10,000 (NZ$6396).

Lord Tu’ilakepa, one of the king’s 33 nobles and a former Speaker of Tonga’s Legislative Assembly, could have been jailed. Had he been jailed for two years or more he could have lost his title and noble’s privileges.

You can read the Prime Minister’s letter in full here

Edwards, who was Lord Tu’ilakepa’s legal counsel, said he was shocked to find such a letter has been written to the kingdom’s senior legal officer, who was supposed to be independent.

The former Justice Minister, said that for the Prime Minister to say the Acting Attorney General had interfered in Lord Tu’ilakepa’s criminal case implied the court’s ruling was unjust, not independent and partial.

Edwards said the doctrine of the separation of the powers, in which the executive (the Prime Minister and cabinet), the legislature (Parliament) and the judiciary (the courts and legal system) all acted independently, was important.

It protected the kingdom from the danger that the executive might interfere with the courts.

Edwards said the Prime Minister should have given the Acting Attorney General the chance to respond to the letter before any official statement was released to the media.

He said the Acting Attorney General worked under the Judicial and Disciplinary Panel and his appointment or dismissal lay within the power of His majesty and not the Prime Minister or cabinet.

Edwards said the Prime Minister’s letter was an embarrassment for a democratic country like Tonga.

In his interview with www.nepituno.to Edwards appeared to blame the Prime Minister’s new advisor, Viliami Tāufa, for the letter. The former Justice Minister said he was not the right person for the post as his expertise was based on research on cattle and dairy farming.

Edwards claimed the Prime Minister had called a meeting with the Acting Attorney General and the Solicitor General before Lord Tu’ilakepa was sentenced.

In the interview Edwards alleged the Prime Minister had told the Acting Attorney General that cabinet would make a final decision about his situation.

Edwards said the Prime Minister’s letter terrified him because it was a threat to the judiciary.

He denied the Prime Minister’s claim that the Acting Attorney General had pleaded to reduce Lord Tu’ilakepa’s sentence.

The main points

  • Tonga’s former Minister of Justice, William Clive Edwards has blasted a letter issued by Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva in which he accused the Acting Attorney General of interfering in a criminal case, saying it was “political,” “terrifying,” “unwise” and “substandard”.
  • As reported in Kaniva News earlier this week, the Prime Minister wrote to Tonga’s Acting Attorney General, ‘Aminiasi Kefu and demanded he respond to what he described as his “grave concern” over his involvement with a firearms case in which Lord Tuʻilakepa was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay a fine of TP$10,000 (NZ$6396).
  • Edwards, who was Lord Tu’ilakepa’s legal counsel, said he was shocked to find such a letter has been written to the kingdom’s senior legal officer, who was supposed to be independent.
  • The former Justice Minister said the Prime Minister should have given the Acting Attorney General the chance to respond to the letter before any official statement was released to the media.

For more information

Link to original nepituno story in Tonga here

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