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Ruling: Court Quashes Conviction In Forgery Case

Ruling:  Court Quashes Conviction In  Forgery Case
Lawyer Iqbal Khan (right), with Sanjay Singh Verma after the Court of Appeal of Fiji ruling.
December 01
12:52 2017

The Court of Appeal of Fiji yesterday quashed the conviction of a man who was jailed for two years over forgery in 2014, saying there was not an iota of credible evidence to establish a prima facie case.

Sanjay Singh Verma was jailed for two years by the Suva Magistrates Court on charges of forgery and uttering a forged document.

Verma had filed claims in the Small Claims Tribunal against his neighbour, Semiti Cakacaka for damaging the lights on his garden fence.

During the hearing, Verma produced an invoice of $550, belonging to Amit’s Auto Electrical purportedly signed by Amit Prasad, the owner of the company.

Cakacaka had claimed Mr Prasad told him that he did not sign the invoice.

Following proceedings, Verma was charged after the Tribunal hearing and subsequently convicted and jailed by the Suva Magistrates Court.

Prasad had claimed that he had no licence to do domestic wiring but the Tribunal made an award against Cakacaka.

An appeal was then filed by lawyer Iqbal Khan in the High Court in Suva on the conviction and sentencing.

It was heard by judge Justice Salesi Temo who dismissed the appeal against conviction, but reduced the jail term from two years to nine months.

Mr Khan then appealed to the Court of Appeal of Fiji on the High Court’s judgment on six grounds of the learned judge erring in law.

Justice Daniel Goundar, in his judgment ruled that none of the grounds of appeal filed by Mr Khan raised any question of law alone.

“I am satisfied that this appeal is bound to fail because the appellant has no right of appeal under section 22 of the Court of Appeal Act,” Justice Goundar said and dismissed the appeal.

The Supreme Court of Fiji, made up of the President of the Supreme Court Justice Anthony Gates, Justice Saleem Marsoof and Justice Brian Keith on October 23, 2015, granted special leave and after considering the application for special leave of the appeal, quashed the decision of Justice Goundar.

The Supreme Court ordered to remit to the appeal to the Full Court of the Fiji Court of Appeal to determine the appeal on its merits in respect to the magistrate’s refusal to uphold submissions of no case to answer and the issue of burden of proof.

The full Court of Appeal of Fiji, Justice E Basnayake, Justice S Lecamwasam and Justice C Prematilaka in its judgment said after Verma had unsuccessfully challenged the award against him in the magistrate and high courts, it was noted that the police investigating officer had said he could not find sufficient evidence to charge Verma and it was done on instructions from his officer in charge.

“The appellant (Verma) was suspected of stealing the invoice book to forge Prasad’s signature. There is no such evidence and no such allegation either.

“It was mere conjecture.”

The Court of Appeal of Fiji said the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case and the learned magistrate should have acquitted Verma without calling for a defence.

“The only dispute in this case is as to who signed the invoice. The prosecution was not able to prove at the close of the prosecution case that it was the appellant (Verma) who signed the invoice.

“The other reliable evidence would have been an expert opinion which the prosecution has failed to obtain.

“According to the evidence of the investigating officer, the officer in charge of crimes had a great interest in this case.

“It is apparent that it was Cakacaka who was instrumental in pushing the Police.

“If the appellant wanted to steal an invoice, why should he write it in the invoice book with a carbon paper?”

As for the appeal in the High Court, the Court of Appeal of Fiji said the learned High Court judge had not taken the trouble at all in considering the evidence on whether there was a prima facie or not and that he had concurred with the magistrate on the issue of burden of proof with no analysis whatsoever.

The conviction was quashed, the judgment of the magistrate and high courts were set aside and Verma  acquitted of both charges.

Edited by Rusiate Mataika

Feedback:  charles.chambers@fijisun.com.fj

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