December 17, 2017

PNG Supreme Court rules PM O’Neill warrant ‘defective’

The Supreme Court bench in Papua New Guinea comprising Justices Joseph Yagi, Terence Higgins and Harold Foulds, in an 11-page decision declared that the warrant of arrest against the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill was void, and of no effect, and that the orders of the District Court and proceedings emanating are quashed.

In the decision, they discussed how the warrant was issued by the District Court, an application by the Prime Minister, and the Police Commissioner, to set aside or withdraw the warrant on the grounds that no information was laid before the District Court to issue the warrant, the district court’s refusal, a five-men Supreme Court interpretation of questions referred to it over the warrant, and a decision by the National Court that a grant of a Warrant of Arrest by the District Court cannot be judicially reviewed.

The three-men bench, after discussing these events, found that “the fundamental defect is the lack of information, the basis for asserting that proceeding by way of arrest was necessary to ensure the Prime Minister’s appearance in court to answer the charge. They questioned what grounds existed for believing he would not attend unless arrested because it’s not disclosed.

“The information in question, even if it supported a belief, that an offence had been committed, need to provide grounds for the belief that proceeding by way of summons would not have been effective. It does not even purport to assert that there were any, let alone “reasonable”, grounds for any such belief.

“It follows that the warrant is defective on its face, and the decision to issue it, is equally defective.” They also commented on the lack of care in its preparation, including spelling errors and partially blank spaces in the information that was supplied.

They concluded that Judicial Review is available to challenge a decision to grant an arrest warrant, that the Chief Magistrate issued the arrest warrant without legal jurisdiction as there had been no information or affidavit filed, and she had not applied her discretion to find on reasonable grounds an offence had been committed and that the proceedings could not proceed by way of summons.

That the arrest warrant was accordingly invalid, void and of no effect.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has called for an investigation into “the real culprits” after the Supreme Court had quashed a long-standing arrest warrant for official corruption against him on Friday.

O’Neill welcomed the Supreme Court decision, describing the whole saga as a political ‘witch-hunt’.

He also plans to announce details of a legal fees enquiry in Parliament in February next year; and advance discussions on ICAC.

“From the start, this was a political witch-hunt based on a complaint by the then leader of the opposition, who could not change Government on the floor of parliament, so he engaged in other means,” he said in a statement.

“This would have opened the way for every future elected Prime Minister of the country to be falsely accused, charged and forced to resign – all based on false allegations.”

O’Neill said the leaders are mandated by the people and can only be removed by the people and Government is mandated by the leaders in Parliament, and can only be removed by elected Members in the Parliament.

“There is simply no other way, and as we have seen today, the attempted malicious use of the legal system has failed. Attempted misuse of Government agencies, the police force and the courts is something that will not work.

“I hope this is a lesson not only to those who form future governments, but also to anyone who wants to try and misuse agencies for their political ambitions.

“This has certainly strengthened our resolve so we can all move forward, and hopefully the agencies and media who have been following this matter can investigate the real culprits behind this case.

“We are all interested in the truth, in knowing who has personally benefitted from the particular contracts that were given to this law firm by the Somare Government.

O’Neill said some of the lawyers and leaders that continue to claim that they are so called do-gooders in the country are actually the worse culprits in this saga.

“Now that the Supreme Court has thrown out the court orders that were blocking us from advancing a legal fees enquiry, I want to inform the country that I will be tabling that in Parliament in February next year.

“Also, I want to say that we will be looking at the discussions around ICAC. Now that all these issues are behind us, we have the clearance to go ahead and to properly debate these issues so that our country can benefit from some of the legislation we are going to pass.” O’Neill said the Supreme Court decision clearly demonstrates that the legal interventions he had sought, to have this matter tested in the courts, was the right approach as now justice has prevailed and precedent has been set.

“This saga has done great damage to the nation, it has costs millions of kina in the legal process, both to me personally and to the state, and our country’s name has been dragged through the mud.

“In particular, media outlets like the ABC have continuously acted without due care for the legal process that is taking place in the country.

They have continuously portrayed an image of our country in a bad light. They take cheap shots, do not investigate and have a vested interest in presenting a bad image of the Nation to promote their own careers.

“I give credit to all the media outlets that have demonstrated professionalism in this debate, that have not taken sides and have maintained fair and balanced reporting.”

O’Neill said the issue had nothing to do with the Government he had led since 2011, but was a dubious matter of the previous Government.