8 Oct 2004

Fiji legal aid funds sought in court martial

4:33 pm on 8 October 2004

Fiji's Legal Aid Commission is asking for more money from the government so it can hire private lawyers to defend soldiers being court martialled for their role in the Speight coup.

Radio Fiji quotes the commission director, Makareta Waqavonovono, as saying that the accused soldiers are constitutionally entitled to defence counsel, a fair trial and equality under the law.

Ms Waqavonovono says the soldiers face the very serious charges of mutiny, misprision of treason and unlawful detention of the deposed government which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The start of the court martial has had to be adjourned three times because some of the 58 soldiers are still un-represented.

The former prime minister, Sitiveni Rabuka; one of the deposed government hostages in the coup, Adi Koila Mara Nailatikau; the suspended director of immigration, Joe Browne, and the chief executive of the Fiji Rugby Union, Pio Bosco Tikoisuva, will be among state witnesses in the court martial.

Four of the 58 accused have already pleaded guilty to the first charge of mutiny.

The court martial is due to resume on October the 20th.