HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 542: 15 December 2010

Range of issues tackled in hearings on electoral petitions

Eligibility of voters, hearing venues, hearing dates, security deposits, the size of security deposits, availability of Justices, travel, travel costs and obtaining evidential records were among matters raised by the Chief Justice Tom Weston with counsel representing the electoral petitioners at a hearing on Tuesday morning in the High Court (Civil Division).
There are four cases to be heard and these are as follows;
Misc 111/10 Andy Matapo v Pukeiti Pukeiti & Ors (Tamarua, Mangaia constituency)
Misc 112/10 Kete Ioane v Mona Ioane Kake & Ors (Vaipae-Tautu, Aitutaki constituency)
Misc 113/10 Toka Hagai v Taunga Toka & Ors (Rakahanga constituency)
Misc 115/10 Vai Peua v Tekii Lazaro & Ors (Pukapuka constituency)
Appearing for the Democratic Party in these petitions is Mrs T Browne while Mr P Lynch appears for the Cook Islands Party and Mr H Matysik appears for the Chief Electoral Officer Taggy Tangmetua and others. Mrs Browne also appears for the Independent Pukapuka candidate in the election, Vai Peua.
The hearing was conducted in the Ministry of Justice Conference room and the media was invited to attend in order to keep the public informed of developments. The conference room appeared to be the only room in the building where the air conditioning worked.
The hearing was due to commence at 10am but concern arose at the non appearance of Mr Paul Lynch.
Lynch did not arrive until the hearing on the Rakahanga petition had started. Also present was Eddie Drollet of the Democratic Party who with just minutes to spare from the 10am deadline for payment of the security deposit for the Tamarua petition, hastily wrote out a cheque for $5,000 which was duely accepted by Claudine Henry-Anguna.
The late appearance of Mr Lynch, sweating and drying himself with a towel, resulted in a dressing down from the Chief Justice. To laymen, the dressing down was not unlike a Headmasterly reprimand delivered under a cold, steely gaze. To Lynch it must have felt like the cold steel of a surgeon’s scalpel slowly peeling back his skin.
The Chief Justice (CJ) then proceeded to deal with each petition in turn.
Issuing arising out of the Tamarua petition were an amended petition lodged by Mrs Browne and the CJ’s order that any cross petition be lodged by 10am on Wednesday 15 December. Mr Lynch indicated a discovery order was needed in relation to medical records held by the hospital. Patient confidentiality may need to be protected said the CJ.
Issues arising out of the Vaipae/Tautu petition were a the hearing may have to take place in Aitutaki and a day may be required. Security for costs was discussed in view of allegations of bribery. The CJ ruled security would be $5,000 but if matters related to bribery, travel and a cross petition by Mr Lynch remain, security would be set at $6,000. The CJ said the hearing date would be set either in the week of 24 January 2011 or the subsequent week 31 January 2011 depending on discussons with the NZ based Justices and the Registry.
An issue arising out of the Rakahanga petition was the payment of the security deposit of $5,000. During Lynch’s absence a check with the cashier confirmed this had been paid prior to the 10am deadline by Teariki Vakalalabure. This prompted the CJ to ask if Teariki was practising law. He was advised Teariki was the brother of Tevita who had earlier been struck off but the CJ may have been referring to the refusal by the previous CJ to permit Teariki to practise in the Cook Islands due to his connections with political events in Fiji. Other issues were a query by Lynch if the amended petition could include the name of a further elector. The CJ agreed but said it would be unlikely further leave would be granted once the amended petition had been filed. Following disussion it was agreed the hearing can take place in Rarotonga and that one day would be sufficient.
Issues arising out of the Pukapuka petition were the considerable uncertainty surrounding the status of the allegations in relation to the petition. The CJ said the major uncertainty is whether the court needs to travel to Pukapuka to undertake the hearing or whether this can be held on Rarotonga. The CJ indicated that the court will travel to Pukapuka if counsel believed it is necessary. A telephone conference will be set up before Christmas to enable decisions to be made. Fresh names may be added to the petition but the CJ said the same conditions would apply as for the Rakahanga petition. Lynch argued that security costs be set at $10,000 due to the costs of travel to the north but Mrs Browne opposed this on the basis the northern group should not be penalised simply for reasons of distance. The CJ postponed a decision on the amount but fixed it at $6,000 in the meantime. The provisional date for a hearing in Pukapuka (if necessary) was discussed being either the week commencing 31 January 2011 or the week commencing 7 February 2011. This is to be confirmed later.

By Charles Pitt

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