Monday, April 02, 2012

PNG government fails to have leader case reheard

By Eoin Blackwell

AAP Papua New Guinea Correspondent

The government of Papua New Guinea has failed in a bid to have last year's constitutional case about who is the country's legitimate leader reheard, after a judge said allowing it would sanction "legislation by surprise and ambush".
However, the court has yet to decide on whether the nation's chief justice, Sir Salamo Injia, and justice Nicholas Kerriwom should step aside amid allegations of bias against the government.
In what was supposed to be the first day of hearings into the legality of parliamentary decisions since the government of Peter O'Neill took office, lawyers instead revisited old ground on Monday.
Government lawyers argued to have the 2011 case be reheard because parliament passed laws disqualifying former prime minister Sir Michael Somare from parliament.
The laws passed three days before the court handed down its December 12 judgment that Sir Michael was unconstitutionally deposed from office and was still PNG's legitimate prime minister.
The same five-man bench who ruled against the O'Neill government in 2011 also opposed the latest move.
"We are of the unanimous view that there is no need for a separate application at this late juncture," Justice Bernard Sakora said in reading out the judgment.
"To do so would sanction legislation by surprise and ambush."
Following a brief adjournment, lawyers for Mr O'Neill applied to have Justice Nicholas Kerriwom removed from hearing the current case due to a perceived apprehension of bias.
On March 13 a document bearing Justice Kerriwom's signature and calling on judges to defend themselves against attacks from the O'Neill government was leaked online.
The memo, leaked to the blog PNGExposed, calls on the court registrar to take out a full-page advertisement in local newspapers to defend Sir Salamo, whom the government and police have accused of mishandling the funds of a dead judge's estate.
Attorney General Allan Marat's lawyer, Tiffany Twivey, argued that the authenticity of the document was not an issue, only that it bore Justice Kerriwom's signature and had been seen by the public both online and in newspapers.
"The memo is up there and has been commented on by the public," Ms Twivey said.
"There are statements in the memo that if they are true (show an apprehension of bias).
The court will deliver its judgment on Justice Kerriwom at 9.30am AEST on Tuesday, after which government lawyers are expected to attempt to have Sir Salamo step down.
The latest legal waltz is the most recent in repeated moves to have Sir Salamo removed from the court altogether.
The O'Neill government tried three times to have him removed from hearing the 2011 case.
It then tried and failed to have him removed from the bench.
Police arrested him last month on allegations of perverting the course of their investigation into his handling of funds, but the court issued a permanent stay on that case.
The government last month passed the controversial Judicial Conduct Bill 2012, which effectively gives parliament the power to suspend judges.
After public opposition to the bill - which is seen by many as a way of removing Sir Salamo - Mr O'Neill indicated last week his government would consult more widely before implementing it.
Parliament will resume at 2pm (AEST) on Tuesday

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