Election of Peter O’Neill
On 9 November 2011, Sir Salamo Injia was suspended from the position of Chief Justice by the government after allegations that he had breached a contempt order and mismanaged court finances. At the time, the Supreme Court was deciding on the constitutionality of the election of Peter O'Neill as Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea. In response, the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of O’Neill supporters, Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah and Attorney-General Dr Allan Marat. The pair were briefly imprisoned.
In December 2011, Sir Salamo Injia was one of five judges who presided over the Supreme Court decision that ruled that Prime Minister O'Neill did not follow due constitutional process when he ousted former Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare on 2 August 2011. The government made numerous attempts to remove Injia from the Supreme Court case, citing a conflict of interest.
Judicial Conduct Bill
On 22 March 2012 Prime Minister O’Neill’s administration introduced a new law, the Judicial Conduct Bill, empowering the government to suspend judges by referring them to a tribunal. The bill was passed by parliament, 24 hours after it was introduced. Opposition commentators have criticised the new law as being designed to remove Injia from the Supreme Court. Sir Barry Holloway, the former speaker of parliament, commented that while many had welcomed the ascension of the O'Neill government because of O’Neill’s promised clampdown on corruption, O’Neill’s on-going battle with the judiciary had "cost it a lot of the public goodwill it enjoyed when it first assumed power".
In May 2012, Injia and Justice Nicholas Kirriwom were arrested on charges of “sedition”, having been part of a three-man bench who ruled that Somare is PNG’s rightful leader. A police unit led by Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah stormed the court in an attempt to arrest Injia. This has caused alarm with the Australian Bar Association, which has called on the government of PNG to reaffirm the independence of its nation’s judges.
In August 2012, the charges against Injia were dropped, following a letter from Prime Minister O’Neill to the Police Commissioner, Tom Kulunga, which requested that the proceedings against each of the judges charged be discontinued. O’Neill, who had originally lodged the complaint against Injia, said that the decision was “in the best interest of the country and the people.”
Justice Timothy Hinchliffe
In March 2012 Injia was arrested by the police, charged with obstructing a police investigation into his alleged intervention into the 2009 handling of the estate of the deceased judge, Justice Timothy Hinchliffe. Police alleged that Injia illegally redirected into court coffers K213, 000 (US$100, 000) meant for Hinchliffe’s adopted son, Timothy Sarri.
The police chief defended the arrest, which was effected by armed officers, explaining that Injia had ignored repeated requests to attend an interview with the police about the execution of Hinchliffe’s will.
A week later, amid increasing criticism from political and judicial circles that the arrest of Injia was politically motivated, the National Court of Papua New Guinea issued a permanent stay on proceedings against Injia, calling the charges an abuse of process. The court also issued a restraining order stopping police from arresting Injia again. The National Court found that the payments managed by Injia in relation to Justice Hinchliffe's estate had been authorised by Timothy Sarri.
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