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Three seek lawyer

Aqela Susu
Tuesday, December 12, 2017

THE Fiji Times sedition trial was adjourned before it started yesterday after Fiji Times Ltd and two of its executives sought time to engage new lawyers.

The case will now be called for mention in February next year and go to trial in June.

The development came after former lawyer for the three, Feizal Haniff, withdrew from the case last week.

Yesterday their new lawyer Pravesh Sharma also withdrew, saying his three clients terminated all legal instructions to him and asked for the vacation of this week's trial to February 2018, to allow them to engage new counsel.

Fiji Times Ltd, its editor-in-chief Fred Wesley and the company's publisher and general manager, Hank Arts, face sedition charges with the editor of Nai Lalakai, its iTaukei language publication, Anare Ravula. Also charged with sedition is Josaia Waqabaca, the author of a letter published in Nai Lalakai.

The prosecution alleges the letter was seditious.

Pravesh Sharma told the court yesterday that when Mr Haniff withdrew as counsel last Thursday, the three thought they should have been given the opportunity to seek an adjournment and appoint a new counsel.

He said the three felt things were rushed. He said they did not have the benefit of talking to their senior counsel in New Zealand.

Mr Sharma said the three felt they would be unfairly disadvantaged if the trial proceeded.

Ravula's lawyer, Devanesh Sharma, and Mr Waqabaca's lawyer, Aman Ravindra-Singh, did not object to the adjournment. They said that it was in the interest of justice that the three should be represented.

Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Lee Burney said there must always be an eye to fairness and a perception of fairness and if the case proceeded to trial it would appear to the wider world that the three were not given a fair opportunity if they were going to trial unrepresented.

Mr Haniff, who had withdrawn from the case after prosecution claims of interference with evidence, was warned by Justice Rajasinghe yesterday to keep away from any involvement in the case because he has now been summoned as a prosecution witness.

Justice Rajasinghe issued a ruling containing his interpretation of the main elements of sedition, setting out what the prosecution had to prove to convict each of the accused persons.

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