‘Case must be expedited’

SODELPA leader Sitiveni Rabuka is escorted by the police officers after an earlier court appearance. Picture: RAMA/FILE

CHIEF Justice Anthony Gates says the appeal case against the former prime minister and Social Democratic Liberal Party leader Sitiveni Rabuka must be expedited as it was an electoral case that would determine how someone would be qualified or disqualified from contesting this year’s general election.

The case was called before Justice Gates at the High Court in Suva yesterday.

Justice Gates said it was not possible to proceed with this case before the election, however, in the High Court this could be realised and therefore, a strict timetable would be followed. Mr Rabuka was acquitted by the Suva Magistrates Court last week on Friday.

He was charged by FICAC for his alleged failure to declare his assets, liabilities and income contrary to the Political Parties Act.

FICAC counsel Rashmi Aslam said they had already filed and served the appeal petition to Mr Rabuka.

He said under Section A of the Electoral Act 2014, the eligibility of a candidate needs to be cleared and that the court was compelled to take a prompt decision with relation to a charge under the electoral law.

In response, Mr Rabuka’s counsel Filimoni Vosarogo said the service of the petition and notice was improper on two grounds:

  • ┬áthe service was not made giving Mr Rabuka three clear days notice as required by the rules from date of service to date of call over; and
  • the service was effected at 6.17pm, which is also in breach of the rules that require service of court documents to be effected between 8am and 5pm.

Mr Vosarogo stressed that the appeal should take its normal course and that is, the appeal period of 28 days should expire before a hearing date was set.

Mr Vosarogo said Mr Rabuka also wanted to retain his counsel from overseas and it was surely a matter of great interest.

Mr Vosarogo said there was no special circumstance that warranted a quick hearing of the appeal and should there be any proposed by FICAC, it needs to be argued as a preliminary issue to the substantive appeal. Justice Gates said cases relating to elections could proceed in such manner and the counsels do not have much options. He also instructed both counsels to address on the issue whether it was a civil or criminal matter.

He told Mr Vosarogo that Mr Rabuka’s overseas counsel could assist them with their submissions if he can’t be present in court.

Justice Gates also advised the counsels that a record of proceedings from the Magistrates Court would be available and they could collect it from the High Court’s registry.

Meanwhile, FICAC has been instructed to provide their written submissions by November 2 and that Mr Rabuka’s counsels must file their response by November 6.

The oral hearing is set to take place in the High Court in Suva on November 8. Justice Gates is set to deliver his judgment on November 12.