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Chief Justice Anthony Gates: FICAC appeal dogged by duplicity of charges

The duplicity of the charges against former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka proved fatal to the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption’s (FICAC) case, said Chief Justice Anthony Gates yesterday. This is
13 Nov 2018 11:44
Chief Justice Anthony Gates: FICAC appeal dogged by duplicity of charges
Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) Leader Sitiveni Rabuka leaves the High Court in Suva yesterday after the ruling by Chief Justice Anthony Gates on the FICAC appeal against Mr Rabuka’s acquittal late last month for alleged breaches of the electoral law. Photo: Simione Haravanua

The duplicity of the charges against former Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka proved fatal to the Fiji Independent Commission against Corruption’s (FICAC) case, said Chief Justice Anthony Gates yesterday.

This is after Justice Gates dismissed FICAC’s appeal against Mr Rabuka’s acquittal in the Suva Magistrates Court late last month for alleged breaches of the electoral law.

Mr Rabuka is the leader of the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA).

In his ruling, Justice Gates said the essential elements were not proved, adding that the appeal was a complex matter requiring a great deal of hard work in preparation and because of the time constraints, all other work had to be put aside.

FICAC was ordered to pay Mr Rabuka $4000 in costs within the next 14 days.

In a 36-page judgment delivered in a packed High Court room, Justice Gates said the charge merged two offences into one and had two different elements of proof, one being strict and the other requiring proof of knowledge of the falsity of the information.

He said it was essential of criminal law and procedure and it was a fundamental protection that an accused be informed of the charge against him or her, without confusion in the charge.

Justice Gates said the confusion in Mr Rabuka’s charge could have affected whether his lawyer could have called him as a witness or not.

“The confusion was there and the defence were understandably prejudiced in the conduct of their case,” Justice Gates said.

“In these circumstances, and for the breach of the essential constitutional requirement, a fair trial was not obtained. Had a conviction been entered it would have had to be quashed upon appeal.”

He said the trial Magistrate was correct when he concluded that FICAC had failed to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt.

“The interview with FICAC left many answers unprobed or unclarified,” he said.

“Such interviews should always be conducted on the basis that reliance may have to be made solely on that procedure.

“The accused submitted himself voluntarily to being questioned on the reasons for his conduct. He need not have said anything. He did.”

Justice Gates said further clarifications by FICAC would have been needed to establish proof beyond reasonable doubt of wrongdoing within the charge.

He said the Registrar Mohammed Saneem did not testify as to the date when he determined that Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA) was accepted for registration, was still registered on December 29, 2017, the date of the alleged offences and that SODELPA remained on the register at the time Mr Saneem gave evidence.

“Even if the Registrar was to give oral testimony without any other supporting evidence, documentary or otherwise, significantly he failed to confirm SODELPA was registered on the date alleged in the charge.”

He said the quality of evidence of the charge was low and it was hardly surprising that the magistrate reached his conclusion that SODELPA had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt to be a registered political party, nor that Mr Rabuka was an office holder required to make the financial declaration.

Edited by Epineri Vula

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