The Fiji Times » ‘Arbitrary’ dismissal could set bad precedent – lawyer

A lawyer for two fired police officers has warned their “arbitrary” dismissal could set a bad precedent.

Naomi Raikaci made the comments in legal filings for her clients, former police officers Penieli Ratei and Tomasi Naulu, who lost their jobs in August last year.

The court was told that the two officers followed a taxi driven by Bolaitia Bainimarama last year.

In their previous encounters, Mr Bainimarama had been found in the taxi with dried leaves believed to be marijuana, but that day they found nothing.

Mr Naulu took a picture of Mr Bainimarama with his mobile phone and Mr Ratei uploaded it to the police’s Operation Southern Division Viber group, as was “standard and accepted practice in profiling high-risk individuals in the community”, said Ms. Raikaci.

The two officers were later charged with conduct that interfered with good order and discipline within the force, as it was alleged that by uploading the photo to the Viber group, they violated Section 18 of the Police Act, which states that any “police officer this may cause photographs of persons in lawful custody for a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment to be used and included in the Force’s register, whether or not that person has been convicted of such an offence”.

They were banned by then-acting Police Commissioner Rusiate Tudravu and sent home with half their pay.

A tribunal was held which, while denying them the opportunity to pursue claims for damages and finding them guilty of the charges, recognized that their guilt stemmed from accepted police practice in profiling high-risk individuals.

In letters to her dated August 4 last year after the court decision, Mr Tudravu lifted her ban effective immediately and said her salary would be restored – a day before Police Commissioner Sitiveni Qiliho resumed his duties and responsibilities.

On August 16, the two officers were told to give reasons why they should not be fired from the police force.

The next day they submitted their entries.

However, on August 18, they received letters saying Mr. Qiliho had ordered their immediate release from the force.

Manuliza Faktaufon, senior legal secretary to the Attorney General, argued that under Section 129(7)(a) of the Constitution, the Police Commissioner has the power to remove individuals from the police force.

Ms Raikaci said Mr Qiliho’s actions would set a precedent for the police commissioner to fire anyone at any time and anyway, without respecting the principles of natural justice, fairness and the right to a fair hearing by the police.

High Court Judge Judge Yohan Liyanage adjourned the matter with a decision to be made for notice.

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