Graham Davis: Scandalous or ridiculous? The timing of a Fiji political lawsuit

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Fiji Attorney-General v Richard Naidu
Fiji Attorney-General v Richard Naidu ... "what ... appears to be a light-hearted comment." Image: Grubsheet

COMMENTARY: By Graham Davis of Grubsheet Feejee

In a sign of utter desperation as Fiji’s general election election approaches, the Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has targeted his potential rival, Richard Naidu, by obtaining leave in the High Court to bring committal proceedings against the lawyer and prospective NFP candidate for allegedly “scandalising and ridiculing the courts and the judiciary”.

Astonishingly, it relates to a Facebook posting that Richard Naidu made on 2 Feburary 2022 — almost 5 months ago — yet was brought and heard before Justice Jude Nanayakkara just this week — on Monday, June 27.

The court ruling is attached — as well as Richard Naidu’s offending posting — and readers can see for themselves the basis of the AG’s complaint, which we are unable to comment on further for legal reasons.

In a statement, the AG said: “ We all owe a duty to protect our Courts and Judiciary from scandal or ridicule”.

Yet if the courts and the judiciary were, in fact, “scandalised” or “ridiculed” back in February, why has it taken this long for Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum to act?

As he says, “this matter is now before the Courts and the committal proceedings will take their normal course”.

The application for committal has been granted by the judge and the matter will now proceed to hearing. But it is the timing of this action that raises serious questions that are clearly in the public interest.

Election timing?
Because Fijian voters — and especially those looking forward to voting for Richard Naidu — have no way of knowing whether the matter will be heard before the election or not.

Why has it taken five months to bring this action? Precisely how has Richard Naidu scandalised or ridiculed the courts or the judiciary with what, at face value, appears to be a light-hearted comment?

Fiji Government
Fiji Government statement … a social media post on the topic. Image: Grubsheet

FACT: Although it has not been formally announced, Richard Naidu is standing for the National Federation Party in the coming election.

REASONABLE ASSUMPTION: Given the post-election coalition agreement between the People’s Alliance and the National Federation Party (NFP), it can be assumed that if they are successful in forming government that Richard Naidu would be the logical choice to be attorney-general.

REASONABLE ASSUMPTION: So Richard Naidu is no longer merely the head of the law firm, Munro Leys, or a private citizen active in the community, but is set to go head-to-head with Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum at the coming election and has designs on his job.

ERGO: Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum has every reason to place obstacles in Richard Naidu’s path to try to prevent him from contesting the election.

Court papers
Court papers on the topic. Image: Grubsheet

CONCLUSION: The AG is not only desperate as the election approaches and the government’s fortunes plummet to 21 percent (by the account of his cheerleaders at the Fiji Sun). The prospect of Richard Naidu not only aspiring to replace him as AG but with the very real prospect of being successful in doing so challenges his gargantuan ego and must gnaw at his inner being.

Richard Naidu is everything Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum is not. The head of a major law firm, not a corporate lawyer who got lucky riding on the coat-tails of a coup leader.

Richard Naidu is also popular and respected, which Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum might have been once, but no longer.

The light-hearted post
The light-hearted Facebook post. Image: Grubsheet

And if the polls are correct, Richard Naidu will replace Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum as AG but Khaiyum will fight like a scalded cat to prevent that from happening.

That’s the context of this court action and you certainly don’t need a great legal brain to work it out.

Australian-Fijian journalist Graham Davis publishes the blog Grubsheet Feejee on Fiji affairs. Republished with permission.

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