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Fresh Legal Challenge Delays Speight Treason Trial

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Fresh Legal Challenge Delays Speight Treason Trial

http://www.usp.ac.fj/journ/docs/news/wansolnews/wansol2408018.html

By LATU MATOTO, RUTH ROSS and JOE YAYA: August 24, 2001 Wansolwara Online (USP)

SUVA: Fiji coup frontman George Speight’s treason trial could now be heard early next year after the prosecution today questioned the case judge, Justice Peter Surnam, claiming he was over the retirement age of 65 under the 1997 Constitution.

In an interview on Fiji TV, the prosecuting lawyer for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said there was a conflict between the 1997 Constitution and a decree passed in August last year moving the retirement age to 70.

"The Constitution limits the age of puisne judges to 65 but last August a judicial decree was passed which extended the age to 70," Deputy Public Prosecutor Peter Ridgeway said.

"The Chandrika Prasad case restored the 1997 constitution and in that case there is a conflict between the decree and the constitution and since Justice Surnam is over 65, it is necessary to resolve this."

However, Justice Surnam said his appointment as acting judge was made by decree by President Josefa Iloilo and the Supreme Court would have to decide on whether he could hear the case.

He adjourning the case to a later date.

"So when that’s resolved, we can then continue where we left off," Ridgeway said.

Meanwhile, the High Court in Lautoka today ordered the removal of the 10 percent value added tax (VAT) from essential food items, effective from September 1, 2001.

Justice Anthony Gates ruled in favour of a case filed by the Fiji Labour Party which claimed the reimposition of VAT items by the caretaker government was illegal.

Justice Gates added that the caretaker government should have been made up of members of the elected Parliament after the Fiji Court of Appeal validated the 1997 Constitution, and that the appointment of caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and his government was unlawful.

The High Court advised the new incoming government to review all decrees made by unelected governments since 1987.

Dr Ganesh Chand, Minister for National Planning, Local Government, Housing and Environment in the deposed government, told Fiji One News the FLP was happy about the ruling.

"We knew the decree was unjust and unconstitutional and illegal, and the benefits of this will go to the poor people."

On the eve of elections, caretaker Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase has come under fire from landowners in his village in Lau for allegedly forcing them to renew a lease reportedly mortgaged to the Fiji Development Bank.

Radio Fiji reported that the landowners from Mavana village claimed they had been deprived of their land for more than 30 years because of the mortgage arrangement to the bank.

The landowners were forced to resort to borrowing land from the neighbouring Mualevu village in order to farm for their livelihood.

The landowners want the land returned to them because they have no land to farm.

Qarase is also being criticised by one of his Assistant Ministers, Adi Finau Tabukaucoro, who claims the SDL party and Qarase are telling voters that the affirmative action "blueprint" for indigenous people's development and other initiatives undertaken by the interim caretaker government are those of the SDL.

However, Qarase rebutted the claim on Fiji One, saying the blueprint was part of his party's manifesto.

"The blueprint was written by me without using any tax payers' money. I wrote it during my own spare time and now it has become part of government policy," he said.

The elections office has confirmed that 5000 officials will take part in the week-long polling which begins at 7am tomorrow (Saturday).

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