The Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation says it has never nor does it ever plan to interfere in the judiciary’s sentencing process and the Director of Public Prosecutions has used incorrect and out of context information published in the Fiji Times to make a factually inaccurate statement about the Minister for Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar.
The Ministry says when the Minister says she would lobby for harsher penalties against perpetrators of rape and sexual violence, she is speaking as a woman and mother who has been fighting for these causes for almost her entire life.
The Ministry says the DPP misquoted Akbar, who is well aware of the fact that this is a judicial process, and the word ‘lobby’ in the Fiji Times article referred to a closed consultation process and wasn’t referring to any current or specific case.
It says the DPP, in his statement, also mentioned that Akbar met with the child who had witnessed the Volivoli homicide, and that this could potentially jeopardise any future prosecution.
The Ministry says this is also incorrect.
It says the victim’s mother had passed away and Akbar, along with Ministry officials, were attending her funeral.
The Ministry adds the Department of Social Welfare is mandated to assess the care and protection of children who have lost their parents and in carrying out their duties, Ministry officials discussed the guardianship of the two sisters, and in no way interfered with the case but carried out the role of the Ministry.
It stresses no witness were interfered with in any way.
The Ministry further says as the Minister responsible for the care and protection of children, women, the disadvantaged, people with disabilities, and older persons, Akbar will continue to provide and support child protection, gender mainstreaming, social protection, and empowerment programmes to address people’s needs and to alleviate poverty in Fiji.
Akbar says when it comes to the safety, welfare, and well-being of the child under the custody of the State through the Ministry of Women, Children, and Poverty Alleviation, she takes full responsibility.
Meanwhile, Fiji Times Editor-in-Chief, Fred Wesley says they accurately reported the Minister’s comments. He says the statement from the Ministry of Women does not explain what was incorrect or out of context about the Fiji Times report.
Wesley says it is not unusual for Government Ministries to claim that Fiji Times is spreading misinformation.
He adds they are used to these claims however the Fiji Times does not do this.
We have also contacted the DPP for their response. They are yet to respond.
The recent comments made by the Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation, Rosy Akbar at a consultation last week have been labelled as inappropriate by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Pryde.
Pryde says in an article published today in the Fiji Times, Akbar has said she would lobby for stricter measures in every single case of domestic violence and sexual offences because it could save lives.
He says sentencing is a judicial function and undertaken carefully by the courts in accordance with the Sentencing and Penalties Act 2009 and the relevant judicial tariffs for the offence.
Pryde adds the courts impose sentences that reflect the seriousness of the offending and take into account the various aggravating and mitigating factors particular to each individual case. He further says Fiji has some of the strictest sentences for sexual offending where the sentence for rape is life imprisonment and the Supreme Court in 2018 increased the tariff on child rape from 11 to 20 years imprisonment and stated that, in particularly heinous cases, the courts will exceed that tariff.
He says it is therefore inappropriate for the Minister, as a member of the executive branch of government, to attempt to interfere in the sentencing process which is clearly a judicial function.
The DPP further says any changes to the statutory law need to be brought before parliament and sentencing of a convicted person needs to be done independently by the courts applying parliament’s law without interference.
Pryde says the article also reported the Minister had met the child who had witnessed the Volivoli homicide.
He says as this matter is subject to a police investigation, it is inappropriate for the Minister to be contacting prosecution witnesses in any capacity as it may potentially jeopardise any future prosecution.
The DPP says there are procedures in place to deal with vulnerable witnesses such as children, and it is important that only professionally-trained people are involved in the process in order to minimise the child’s trauma and safeguard the evidence.
He further says there is a reason the Constitution separates the functions of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary and the boundaries separating each branch of government need to be respected.
Pryde also says issues such as bail or sentencing are judicial functions and the judiciary should be allowed to make decisions on these matters without lobbying or other pressures being placed on them outside the court process.
We have sought a response from Akbar. She is yet to respond.
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