10 Jul 2003

Defence lawyers again absent from Fiji court martial

10:14 am on 10 July 2003

The president of a court martial of 25 soldiers facing charges of mutiny has expressed serious concern about the regular absences of defence lawyers, resulting in constant adjournments.

Radio Fiji says in the latest incident, two defence lawyers failed to turn up for the mitigation of two soldiers who had already pleaded guilty to mutiny and are due to be sentenced.

The radio says Kelemedi Bulewa sent a doctor's note saying he was sick while Sevuloni Valenitabua had a letter delivered saying he was at another trial.

The court martial had to be adjourned until next Monday because mitigation for the two guilty soldiers could not proceed in the absence of their lawyers.

The court president said the lawyers should take his concern seriously because counsel absenteeism had been an ongoing problem for the trial which is now well into its second year.