Court Sets Timeline for Appeal Against Bainimarama and Qiliho Sentence as Potential Contempt of Court Proceeding Looms

Fiji’s Acting Chief Justice Salesi Temo scheduled May 2 to hear the appeal against the sentences of former Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama and suspended COMPOL, but not before calling out Magistrate Seini Puamau for non-compliance and refusal to follow high court orders contemplating contempt of court proceedings against her.

During a 45-minute hearing in a packed courtroom in Suva, Temo referenced the Law of Precedent and the chain of command in the judiciary that must be followed. Generally, magistrates are expected to carry out higher court orders whether they agree with the reasoning or not, he told the court.

Today’s sitting comes after the state appealed against the non-custodial sentences Magistrate Puamau handed down to Bainimarama and Qiliho last week.

Last Thursday, both Bainimarama and Qiliho escaped jail time. Bainimarama was granted an absolute discharge, while Qiliho received a conditional discharge. This was the second time the case was called before Magistrate Puamau for sentencing after she acquitted them of the charges in October of last year.

State counsel described last week’s sentences as lenient and inappropriate, deviating from Justice Temo’s high court orders last month in which he overturned Magistrate Puamau’s acquittal ruling following a state appeal. He reversed the acquittal, convicting Bainimarama and Qiliho of perverting the course of justice and abuse of office, respectively.

Justice Temo outlined four options available to him if he decides to take action after this appeal: activating high court contempt powers and launching contempt proceedings against Magistrate Puamau, referring her to the police for refusing to follow high court orders, recommending to the President for a tribunal to remove her from the bench on the grounds of alleged misbehaviour, or her resignation from the magistrate because her actions, he said, bring into question her ability as a magistrate.

He also explained the appeal procedures and dismissed a suggestion by State Counsel and assistant DPP Laisani Tabuakuro to remand the duo in light of the high court conviction ruling this year. Temo stated that the two had never missed a court session, thus he did not see the need to remand them.

Before today’s sitting, Acting CJ directed that no bags be allowed inside the courtroom.

Bainimarama and Qiliho are scheduled to attend a pre-trial conference before a magistrate on the same day next month for a separate case. This case relates to the termination of two police officers in 2021. Justice Temo instructed the legal representatives of the duo to request a deferment from the presiding magistrate. Both Bainimarama and Qiliho have denied the charges against them.

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