I recently had cause to look through the Fiji Government Gazette notices and supplements for the year 2000, in search of a particular regulation. It was actually an interesting year to scroll through on one of the microfilm machines in the Law Library’s Reading Room because I was aware that, in May of that year, there had been a coup d’état. This lead to various complicated changes and actions, with first a military then a civilian interim government in place following the coup. Later, in November 2000, the Fijian High Court declared that the interim civilian government was illegal and effectively reinstated the 1997 Constitution, which had been abrogated by the interim military government (led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama) in late May. This ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeal the following year. The numbering of the Gazette in 2000 actually restarted in the middle of the year, and as I scrolled through I noticed lots of references to emergency decrees, curfews, military exclusion zones, and new appointments to various government offices, etc.
As I noted in a post a few years ago, Fiji has a complicated constitutional, political, and social history. It had its own king before becoming a British colony, with the colonists importing 61,000 indentured laborers from India between 1879 and 1916 to work in sugarcane fields. There have been several coups and changes in administration, and the country has been expelled or suspended from, then re-admitted to, the Commonwealth. Just over half of the current population are indigenous Fijians (iTaukei), with the next major ethnic demographic being Fiji Indians (Indo-Fijians), who make up about 40% of the population. The voting system and make up and form of the legislature, as well as land rights, have been hugely contentious and divisive political issues over the past forty or so years.This year, in September 2014, there will be another historic milestone in Fiji with the first democratic parliamentary elections being held since another coup in 2006 saw another interim government, again headed by Commodore (now Rear Admiral) Bainimarama, take control of the running of the country. The elections will be held under the new 2013 Constitution, which became law in September last year. A new electoral law came into force in March 2014. The Fiji Elections Office has stated that, in these elections, “every Fijian is gaining an equal voice for the first time.”
The Law Library’s collection of legal materials from Fiji reflects the various developments that have taken place over the years. The Library has a range of items related to Fijian constitutional law. We also hold copies of early Government Gazettes dating back to 1871 when the Kingdom of Fiji was established as a constitutional monarchy led by Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau; the Fiji Government Gazette that was issued from 1874 when Fiji became a British colony (Fiji became independent in 1970); the Fiji Republic Gazette that was published in 1987 after coup-leader Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka declared the country to be a republic; and Gazettes published following the 1997–1998 constitutional changes.
In addition to the Gazette, the Law Library holds copies of the “The Fiji Law Reports: Cases Decided in the Supreme Court of Fiji“; publications of statutes and regulations and indexes of laws from various years; and reports of the Fiji Law Reform Commission on a range of subjects.
As with other small jurisdictions, many of the secondary sources available on Fiji law are chapters in books on particular subjects. For example:
- One area of law and policy that has gained attention in the Pacific in recent years is the issue of how to deal with the impact of climate change in the region. The Law Library holds a recent book, titled “Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: The Search for Legal Remedies,” that includes a chapter on Fiji.
- An area that we frequently research here at the Law Library is various aspects of family law, and we have a 2011 book on “Law and the Family in the South Pacific” that includes discussion and analysis of Fijian laws.
- As noted above, one of the contentious issues in Fiji over the years has been that of indigenous or customary land ownership. Management of such property is discussed in a chapter of a book titled “Comparative Perspectives on Communal Lands and Individual Ownership: Sustainable Futures,” which is in the Law Library’s collections.
For more books that include information on the laws of Fiji, check out our Global Legal Information Catalog.
There are also a number of resources on Fijian law freely available online. We recently updated our Guide to Law Online page for Fiji, where you can find links to the current constitution, Fiji government websites, the Pacific Legal Information Institute (PacLII) website, and various other information. As always, please feel free to contact us if you need reference assistance for any country or legal topic.