Republic of the Fiji Islands
Fiji is an independent country lying on the border between the Polynesian and Melanesian regions of the Pacific and is the most populous Pacific island country. Its capital is Suva and it is located four and a half hours flying time north-east of Sydney.
Fiji became independent in 1970 after almost 100 years as a British colony. Democratic rule was interrupted by two military coups in 1987, caused by concern over a government perceived as dominated by the Indian community (descendants of contract labourers brought to the islands by the British in the 19th century). The coups and a 1990 constitution that cemented native Melanesian control of Fiji, led to heavy Indian emigration; the population loss resulted in economic difficulties, but ensured that Melanesians became the majority. A new constitution was enacted in 1997. Elections were held in 1999 and resulted in a government led by an Indo-Fijian.
A civilian-led coup in May 2000 led to a period of political turmoil. Parliamentary elections were held again in August 2001 and provided Fiji with a democratically elected government led by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase who was re-elected in May 2006. Prime Minister Qarase was ousted in a December 2006 military coup led by Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. In January 2007, Commodore Bainimarama was appointed interim prime minister by the interim government. The interim government has promised to hold elections in 2009.
The head of state is President Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda (since 18 July 2000). The President was reaffirmed as president by the Great Council of Chiefs in a statement issued on 22 December 2006 and was reappointed by the coup leader Commodore Bainimarama in January 2007
The head of government is legally Prime Minister Oarase although he is currently confined to his home island. The interim Prime Minister has appointed an interim cabinet.
There are approximately 918,675 Fijians. Of those, 54.8 per cent are Indigenous Fijians (predominantly Melanesian with a Polynesian admixture), 37.4 per cent are Indian, and the remainder of the population is made up of European, other Pacific Islanders and Chinese.
In 2006 the GDP per person was US $6,200 and Fiji is one of the most developed of the Pacific Islands. It possesses forest, mineral, and fish resources. Sugar exports, remittances from Fijians working abroad, and a tourist industry are the major sources of foreign exchange. Fiji's sugar has special access to European Union markets, but will be harmed by the European Union’s decision to cut sugar subsidies. Sugar processing makes up one-third of industrial activity but is not efficient. Overseas remittances from Fijians working in Kuwait and Iraq have increased significantly.
Court structure and the legal system
Fiji has two levels of appellate court within its jurisdiction. Prior to the advent of the Constitution in 1997 inferior courts operated at a village level (although they had not operated since 1967). The Supreme Court is the final appellate body.
The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice who is president of the court and judges appointed to the Supreme Court sand the Justices of Appeal. The Supreme Court must sit with three judges.
The Court of Appeal consists of the President of the Court of Appeal, Justices of Appeal and the puisne judges of the High Court.
The High Court consists of the Chief Justice and not less than ten puisne judges.
The Chief Justice is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, following consultation with the leader of the opposition (in a normal political climate). Other judges and Justices of Appeal are appointed by the President of Fiji Islands on recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission following a process of consultation. Magistrates are divided into three classes – resident magistrate, second class magistrate, and third class magistrate. Magistrates are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission.
Custom and the influence on the legal system
Provision for the recognition of customary law is found in section 3 of the Native Lands Act (Cap 133) whereby native lands are to be held by native Fijians according to native customs as evidence by usage and tradition.