22 Oct 2004

Fiji Democrats condemn Senator's bid for jury made up of high chiefs

10:17 am on 22 October 2004

The Fiji Democratic Party has condemned an application by a government senator that his trial on serious mutiny-related charges be heard by assessors who are other high chiefs.

The request has been made by Ratu Inoke Takiveikata's Australian lawyer, Gabriel Wendler, who told the High Court that it must consider cultural and ethnic issues, otherwise allegations of an unfair trial will persist.

Mr Wendler also produced an affidavit from a former USP academic, Senator Asesela Ravuvu, that in Fijian culture chiefs could not be tried by commoners.

But the leader of the Fiji Democratic Party, Filipe Bole, has told the Fiji Sun that any such decision would have far reaching implications on the constitutional rights of the common people.

Mr Bole says it could even disenfranchise them or take away their constitutional right to decide in a general election whether to vote for a chief or not.

Mr Bole says neither jailed vice president Seniloli nor the minister for lands, Ratu Naiqama Lalabalavu, whose Labasa mutiny case is still before the courts, have received special treatment because of their positions as high chiefs.

The senior state prosecutor, Daniel Howard, has also criticised Senator Ravuvu's affidavit that commoners could not pass judgment on high chiefs, saying the claim only acts to undermine the rights of indigenous Fijians to act as assessors.

The case continues today.