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PNG Jail Conditions Slammed By Judge

PNG Judge Slams Plight Of Jails

Source: The National (PNG)

Funding failure to blame for unhealthy prisons:

LAE: The National Court here has acknowledged the appalling conditions of prisons in the country but refused to grant bail to a remandee because it was in "the interest of justice", the National reports.

"The Bail Act is not intended to be used to solve problems of overcrowding and unhealthy conditions (in jails)," Justice Bernard Sakora said when refusing bail to Heisi Tau, a Buimo jail remandee awaiting court appearance on charges of robbery and rape.

In his ruling, however, Justice Sakora lashed out at the Government for inadequate funding of the Correctional Institutions Service saying this was the main factor contributing directly to overcrowding and unhygienic and unhealthy environment in prisons.

"All prisoners throughout the country suffer from these conditions, arising directly from a continuing lack of political will to adequately fund the operations of the Correctional Institutions Service," said Justice Sakora.

In his submission before the court, the counsel for the applicant, Baru Ovia from Gamago and Co Lawyers, argued that his client should be allowed bail due to overcrowding at the jail and the unhygienic and unhealthy conditions the inmates were forced to live in.

State counsel M Peter opposed bail saying that the offences Tau has been charged with were serious, with each count carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Justice Sakora said although the National Constitution entitles inmates to apply for bail and be granted bail by the National Court, this right was not absolute.

"The right to bail is qualified by law to the extent that the 'interest of justice' may require that bail should not be granted," the judge said.

"And the 'interest of justice' may involve a consideration of any one or more of the factors or circumstances enumerated under Section 9 (1) of the Bail Act."

He said this provision specifically provided that bail should not be refused unless the bail authority was satisfied on reasonable grounds as to the existence of one or more of those factors.

He said that after considering the application, he was satisfied that factors of "interests of justice" did exist in the circumstances of Tau's case and rejected the bail application.

Remandees at Buimo are currently on hunger strike to protest against the authorities' failure to improve conditions and overcrowding in the cell blocks.

The striking inmates, in a petition sent to the media, said the problem of overcrowding at the jail was a direct result of the failure by the police and the courts to deal with bail applications quickly.

Justice Sakora's ruling, while not linked to the Buimo inmate's hunger strike, acknowledged that inmates throughout the country suffer because of insufficient funds to house, feed, clothe and attend to the health, social and religious needs of the inmates.

"And the direct responsibility of these rests with the executive government of the country," he said.

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

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