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Government wants all-Tongan Supreme Court bench and government control of salaries by 2020

Minister of Justice Sione Vuna Fā’otusia said the government was working on a scheme to have an all-Tongan Supreme Court bench by 2020.

“This is a wonderful thing for our Judiciary and for us Tongans to have faith in the integrity and capability of our very own people,” Fā’otusia said.

The Minister told Kaniva News the scheme also included the government being able to pay the Supreme Court Judges.

Given the current situation where judges’ salaries and appointments are controlled by the  Judicial Appointment and Discipline Panel, this would appear to require a change in the Constitution.

The panel and the creation of the position of Lord Chancellor were created in the revised 2010 constitution. However, they were not suggested by the Constitutional Review Commission, which was headed by former Chief Justice of Tonga, Sir Gordon Ward.

Australia and New Zealand used to pay the judge’s salaries, but stopped doing so after the Lord Chancellor reviewed the Tonga judges pay. It is understood this was because the judges’ salary scales were set at New Zealand levels.

Judges salaries now come out of tax payer’s revenue without any government control.

“As you can now see, the poor tax payers of Tonga is paying for the salaries of the Judges, but we in Government have nothing to do with it,” Fā’otusia said.

“But this does not mean that our Judges are not doing a good job. No, in fact, they have done a hell of a good job indeed considering the amount of work they have to dispose in court.

“But the absence of being transparent is the problem and I am sure the Governments of both New Zealand and Australia may have problems in considering assistance in this area because of that.”

The Minister said that under Section 83B of the Constitution, the Lord Chancellor regulated the judge’s pension scheme.

Under Section 83C of the Constitution, the Judicial Appointment and Discipline Panel determined the wages of judges.

“This is just the existing law of the land, but it is for the current law making body to amend it the way they see fit!” Fā’otusia said.

“That is the beauty of our laws. They are not there for ever. They change pursuant to the aspiration of the people, and the way and where they want to go,” he said.

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