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Fiji Treason Trial Judge Out After Death Threat Wansolwara Online (USP):

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I will have to take case if no one wants it: CJ

SUVA (Pasifik Nius): Justice Peter Surman, the judge assigned to the Speight treason trial, has reportedly withdrawn from the case because of death threats, the Daily Post reports.

And the newspaper today described the withdrawal of the British judge under duress as another massive blow to justice, adding it was "another sad chapter in the history of Fiji".

The Daily Post reported in a front-page story that senior officers from the judiciary and police had yesterday confirmed this development.

Police sources reportedly confirmed receiving a report on the death threat against the High Court judge. Justice Surman declined to comment.

Legal sources said no one wanted to preside over the case because of its sensitivity and the continued threats to security.

Chief Justice Sir Timoci Tuivaga said he was still trying to find a judge for the case.

He said Justice Surman had resigned because of personal reasons.

Tuivaga said that if no one was interested when the case would be called on February 18, he might have to take it on himself.

He said it was going to be awkward for him because he expected objections if that happened.

Tuivaga came under the spotlight last year after he said Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase had erred in his interpretation of the constitution in leaving the Fiji Labour Party out of government.

But he was also widely condemned for his alleged legal role supporting the military regime when martial law was declared 10 days after the attempted coup on 19 May 2000.

Tuivaga said yesterday the assessors who would sit on the Speight treason trial would be a mix of locals and expatriates, and would be a racially balanced group.

He said the case was a sensitive one concerning national security.

In an editorial, the Daily Post said: "Made under duress as it was, Justice Surman's withdrawal is a massive blow against our judiciary, not the least because of the devastating and demoralising effect it will have on other judges, prosecutors and witnesses involved in various cases linked to the illegal overthrow of the Mahendra Chaudhry government."

The judge's withdrawal comes in the wake of moves to kidnap the prime minister, the military commander and the attorney-general by a dissident group seeking the release of George Speight and his 11 alleged co-conspirators facing treason charges.


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