06 March 2021
Robson Djokovic.

Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff loses rights to vote, faces $50, 000 fine or five years in jail

THE Prime Minister’s nephew and Chief of Staff, Robson Djokovic, has lost the right as a citizen to vote in an election in the Solomon Islands, the High Court ruled, Friday.

Djokovic faces a maximum penalty of a $50, 000 fine, five years in jail, or both, according to section 120 of the Electoral Act 2018. His lawyer, Wilson Rano, immediately announced Djokovic would appeal.

The presiding judge, Howard Lawry made four declarations in his ruling yesterday. He ruled that:

  • Pursuant to section 26(1) of the Constitution of Solomon Islands 1978, the Claimant (Djokovic) is not a citizen of Solomon Islands;

  • Pursuant to section 20(1) as read with section 20(6) and section 22 of the Constitution of 1978, as amended by the Constitution (Amendment (Dual Citizenship) Act 2018 the Claimant is not a citizen of Solomon Islands;

  • Pursuant to the Constitution of Solomon Islands 1978 as amended by the Constitution (Amendment (Dual Citizenship) Act 2018 the Claimant does not continue to hold his Solomon Islands Citizenship despite also holding Australian citizenship; and 

  • Pursuant to Section 48 and 55(1) of the Constitution of 1978 as read with Section 7, 8, and  9 of the Electoral Act 2018, as amended, that the Claimant is not entitled to register as an elector and is therefore not entitled to vote in any general or by-elections.

It is also understood that section 55 of the Constitution stated that only Solomon Islands citizens age 18 and over can be registered as electors. 

The court heard that Djokovic was born on 10 July 1973 in Gizo. The court also heard that Djokovic’s mother is of the Kokoa and Puibangara tribes of Choiseul Province.

“The claimant identifies himself as an indigenous Solomon Islanders of these tribes.

“He owns land in perpetuity being customary tenure and as a trustee for the Kokoa tribe. He is accepted to be a member of the Kokoa tribe and is recognised in custom as such by members of his tribe.

Justice Lawry said in 1981, Djokovic moved to Australia to further his education and obtained naturalised Australian citizenship status in 1981.

“He deposed that he continued to visit Solomon Islands and said that in 1991 he surrendered his Australian passport when given a choice to surrender either his Australian or his Solomon Island passport.

 “He further deposes that he returned to Solomon Islands as a full-time resident in 1992 and was made aware he was still recognised as an Australian citizen despite the fact that he had surrendered his Australian Passport.”

The court also heard that in June 2000, Djokovic relocated his wife and children to Australia and commuted between the two countries for work, family, and business commitments.

Judge Lawry said Djokovic deposes that he began residing between the two countries in 2009 and having misplaced his Solomon Islands passport applied for an Australian passport.

“He further said that he continued to frequently travel between Solomon Islands and Australia using his Australian passport and enjoyed an exemption from residency and work permit requirements until 2014.

In 2015 Djokovic applied for a Solomon Islands passport but was denied as he needed to comply with the Australian requirement to revoke his Australian citizenship.

Judge Lawry said Djokovic applied for Solomon Islands Citizenship in September 2018 and also in September 2018 he registered as a voter for the 2019 National General Elections.

A police investigation was conducted following complaints by the Opposition.

In an earlier hearing Djokovic whose mother is from Solomon Islands sought a declaration that as an indigenous Solomon Islander his citizenship is automatic regardless of whether he holds any other citizenship from any country.

But the Attorney General (AG) who acts on behalf of the Citizenship Commission argued that because Djokovic holds an Australian passport he lost his Solomon Islands’ citizenship.

Lawry said as Djokovic was an indigenous Solomon Islander, he became a citizen of Solomon Islands on 7 July 1987 by virtue of section 20(1) of the Constitution.

Djokovic had also deposed that he obtained Australian citizenship when he became a naturalised Australian and he did not lose that citizenship by surrendering his passport to authorities in Solomon Islands.

Judge Lawry said Djokovic did not lose his citizenship by surrendering his passport to the authorities in Solomon Islands.

“That is why he was able to apply for an Australian passport and travel on that passport between 2009 and 2014.

“Even if he had lost his Australian citizenship in 1991 (which he did not) and remained a citizen of Solomon Islands, his actions in 2009 must-have required him to regain his Australian citizenship when he obtained an Australian passport.

“Those actions alone would trigger section 8 of the Citizenship Act 1978, causing him to lose Solomon Islands citizenship had it not already been lost.

“Significantly he acknowledges that he remains an Australian citizen,” the Judge said.

Djokovic had submitted that section 8(1) of the Citizenship is void because of section 2 of the Constitution. He submitted that what the Constitution has given, the Parliament cannot take away.

He said the Constitution gave him citizenship as an indigenous Solomon Islander. But the Judge said, “this submission is misguided as the Constitution also specifically gave Parliament the power to deprive and renounce citizenship of Solomon Islands in section 25 of the Constitution.”

Djokovic further submits that section 25 cannot apply to those who became citizens at independence by being indigenous Solomon Islanders and it can only apply to those who have received citizenship on application.

Judge Lawry said the problem with this argument is that section 25 does not restrict its provisions in that way as section 23(2) of the Constitution does.

“It applies to citizens of Solomon Islands who have attained the age of eighteen years.”

He said Djokovic’s status as an indigenous Solomon Islander qualified him for citizenship of Solomon Islands without the need to apply for that citizenship.

“He subsequently lost that citizenship on his eighteenth birthday pursuant to section 23(1) of the Constitution and therefore did not maintain his Solomon Islands citizenship.

Newsroom, Honiara