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Suva - Magistrate Ordered To Pay Journalists

FIJI: Magistrate Ordered To Pay Journalists Over Contempt Case

Source: Pacific Media Watch

MAGISTRATE ORDERED TO PAY JOURNALISTS OVER CONTEMPT CASE

SUVA, Fiji Islands (PMW): The Fiji Court of Appeal has ordered a magistrate to pay F$1500 to the editor of the country's major daily newspaper and two journalists in legal costs for finding them in contempt of court three years ago without sufficient evidence.

Magistrate Sayed Mukhtar Shah succeeded in his appeal against a High Court judgement which had earlier awarded F$33,900 for indemnity costs to Fiji Times editor Samisoni Kakaivalu and reporters Yunus Rashid, now overseas, and Dharmend Prasad, now working for another Suva daily, the Fiji Sun.

According to the Fiji Sun in a front page report on 13 November 1999, the Appeal Court's ruling the previous day had "sent shockwaves in the legal circle with magistrate Shah set to pay the trio from his own pocket instead of from Government funds.

"On record, Shah is the first magistrate ordered to pay damages against his own ruling."

The newspaper reported that the three journalists and a state prosecutor had been found guilty of contempt in November 1996 over a trial involving a Government lawyer charged with obstruction of justice.

The prosecutor had applied to magistrate Shah for a short adjournment after learning that the case had been earlier listed for hearing before another magistrate, the Fiji Sun said.

The Fiji Times reported Shah's refusal to grant the prosecutor the adjournment.

Shah cited the three journalists and the prosecutor for contempt on 13 November 1996 and, after several hearings, ordered them to pay $25 each in court costs and not to reoffend within six months, the Fiji Sun reported under Dharmend Prasad's byline, one of the cited journalists.

However, according to the Fiji Times, all four had appealed against their fines and the High Court quashed the contempt orders made by Shah.
Judge Kevan Townsley also ordered Shah to pay for all indemnity costs.

In the latest ruling, the Appeal Court upheld Shah's appeal and stated that such indemnity costs were not available in criminal appeals.

Article provided by the Journalism Programmme, University of the South Pacific. Pasifik Nius.

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