Supreme Court orders Fepulea’i re-trial

Supreme Court Justice Leiataualesa Darryl Clarke yesterday quashed a District Court decision to discharge without conviction suspended Lands and Titles Court President, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati.

Justice Leiataualesa upheld an appeal by the Police and ruled that the matter is remitted back to the District Court for a re-trial, with the direction that section 17 of the Sentencing Act 2016 is applied.

The matter relates an incident on the night of December 15, 2017 at the end of year party convened at the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration for the judiciary and their staff. Fepulea’i, the respondent in yesterday’s appeal, struck a 55-year-old male at the party twice with a bottle and threw a punch at him and sustained injuries during the attack. 

The respondent was charged by the police and went before the District Court in July this year, where he pleaded guilty to actual bodily harm. Following a full trial, the presiding District Court Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i discharged him without conviction.

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The decision of the District Court judge subsequently led to an appeal by the Police, who were represented in the appeal by Rexona Titi from the Office of the Attorney General. The respondent was represented by counsel Aumua Ming Leung Wai.

Before handing down his decision yesterday, Justice Leiataualesa told the parties that the appellant – as it did in the District Court proceedings – invited the Supreme Court to set sentencing bands for the offence of causing injury with intent. 

The rational of the invitation by the prosecution was to set guidelines, due to the discontent with sentences by the District Court in relation to that type of offending, he added.

But the invitation by the invitation by the prosecution was premature, according to the Supreme Court Judge.

“In my view it is premature for guidelines to be made in the absence of any appeals on sentence having earlier been made, and not in a case where the appeal relates to the grant of a discharge without conviction. I decline to issue a guideline judgment for sentencing for causing injury with intent. 

“The sentence of discharge without conviction is quashed and the matter is remitted to the District Court for re-hearing with the direction that section 17 of the Sentencing Act 2016 is to be applied to any dispute fact between the parties. 

“I have not directed that the District Court find as an aggravating factor ‘abuse of position of power’ and leave this open to the Judge to consider on further submission by counsel as the matter is remitted for re-hearing,” Justice Leiataualesa said.

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