22nd June 09:39 PM
Clear definitions in the Bill will build confidence in the people-Raj
By Vijay Narayan and Ilaitia Ravuwai
Thursday 18/05/2017
Director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Ashwin Raj

The Director of the Fiji Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission, Ashwin Raj says giving clear definitions of words like demean, defame and undermine in clause 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill will build confidence in people and strengthen the legislation.

Section 24 of the proposed law says that any person whose words or actions defame, demean or undermine the sanctity of parliament, the Speaker or a committee commits an offence and is liable upon conviction in the case of a natural person, to a fine not exceeding $30,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both.

If a body corporate is found guilty of doing the same, they can be fined up to $100,000 or face prison terms for each director and manager not exceeding 5 years, or face both penalties.

While making the commission’s submission on the bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights, Raj said that the definitions and the thresholds will assist people.

He says people will then know that they can criticise policies and raise issues that affect them.

Raj also says that the enforcement and adjudicating authority in clause 24 needs to be defined to avoid any conflict of interest.

He says the adjudicating authority needs to develop a legal reasoning that is clear, consistent and transparent with thresholds in establishing the limits of acceptable criticism.

Raj also says that a clear distinction also needs to be made between statements made in relation to an individuals dignity and those that might harm the nation at large.

Meanwhile the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement Executive Director Nalini Singh says they are concerned with section 24 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill as she says that it is inconsistent with section 17 of the constitution.

Section 17 of the constitution clearly states that every person has the right to freedom of speech, expression, thought, opinion and publication however it does not protect propaganda for war, incitement to violence or insurrection against the constitution, advocacy or hatred that is based on any prohibited ground of discrimination and constitutes incitement to cause harm.

The section further states that a law may limit, or may authorise the limitation of, the rights and freedoms in the interests of national security, public safety, public order, public morality, the protection or maintenance of the reputation, privacy, dignity, rights or freedoms of other persons including the right to be free from hate speech, whether directed against individuals or groups.

FWRM’s Nalini Singh says the words defame, demean or undermine in section 24 are not defined in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Bill.

She adds by not having these terms clearly defined within the bill suggests potential misuse and a subjective application or interpretation by MPs that take offence to any public utterance.

Singh highlighted that previous submissions show that not only are the terms wide and vague, but it fails to acknowledge that there is an existing Defamation Act.

She says in the interest of the public and in recognition of the substantive efforts that Fiji has made to return to democracy, the FWRM strongly suggests the removal of section 24.

Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Justice, Law and Human Rights Ashneel Sudhakar says there is no special protection to Members of Parliament in the section.

Sudhakar has stressed that people can still question and criticise the government and parliamentarians.

He has also stated that all cases will be heard in the High Court.

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