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New Magistrate Takes Over Rebel Case

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By Matelita Ragogo Editor of Wansolwara © USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: A new magistrate with about three months' experience on the bench in the Fiji Islands, Laisa Laveti, will now preside over the case against coup leader George Speight and 12 other alleged plotters.

Chief magistrate Salesi Temo today disqualified himself from presiding over the counts which the 13 men are jointly charged with.

He took this step as the last accused, Joji Bakoso, is a relative of Temo. The chief magistrate had disqualified himself from a previous a case in which Bakoso was accused of being in possession of arms earlier this year.

The office of the Director of Prosecutions had lodged an application two weeks ago seeking the disqualification of Temo. This was supported by an affidavit by state prosecution officer Wilisoni Kurisaqila.

A decision on whether the men should be allowed bail has been deferred and will now be decided upon by Ms Laveti.

However, Temo will preside over the treason charge proceedings because Bakoso is not charged with treason along with the remaining accused.

"It would not be proper for me to preside in this case ... a fair-minded and informed observer might reasonably apprehend or suspect that I might prejudge the case because of Joji Bakoso,'' Temo said.

"The three counts of treason, conspiracy to commit treason and misprison to treason will be dealt with according to law by this court. I understand that [Mr Bakoso] is not an accused in this matter.''

Temo also ruled that Bakoso's case would not be severed or would he appear before separate hearing to save the court's time and taxpayers' money.

"The issues concerning the validity or otherwise of the Immunity Decree 18 of 2000 and the bail matter will be considered by [Ms Laveti],'' Temo said.

The prosecution office now has one week to serve documents on the defence counsel over the three treason charges against the rebels who will now enter their fourth week on their island prison, Nukulau Island.

The accused rebels will reappear on August 25.


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