2 Jul 2003

Fiji lawyers question legality of court martials

6:36 am on 2 July 2003

Defence lawyers for a group of Fiji soldiers facing court martial on a charge of treason for their role in the May 2000 coup are questioning its legality.

Radio Fiji reports that the lawyers are claiming that the court martial is sitting illegally according to military law.

Sevuloni Valenitabua, who represents 11 of the 51 soldiers, told the President of the court martial, Col Matereti Sarasau, that several procedures in the manual of military law had not been complied with, making the sitting illegal.

He said one of these was that the court martial has to have the jurisdiction to hear treason, murder or other treason-related offences the soldiers are charged with.

Mr Valenitabua said he is appealing an April judgement by Justice Filimoni Jitoko that the military has the power to detain and try soldiers for treason and murder.

Mr Valenitubua says treason and murder cases should be heard in the civl court and not in a military court martial.

Col Sarasau has adjourned the court martial till November 10th for mention to allow the Court of Appeal to hear Mr Valenitabua's appeal.