Judge questions abuse of process in hearing of man who gave false information
District Court Judge, Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i, was “troubled” by a potential “miscarriage of justice” in the case of a man accused of giving false information with the intention of misleading a Police Officer in the execution of his duties.
The case in question involved one Walker Seiuli. It was quashed and dismissed as it was in violation of the statute of limitations.
This is what Judge Alalatoa said in her written ruling. Seiuli was represented by lawyer, Lei’ataua Jerry Brunt. According to Judge Alalatoa on 15 August 2017, Seiuli through Defence Counsel pleaded not guilty to a charge alleging that on 13 September 2013, he gave false information to Constable Viane Faletoese with the intention of misleading him in the execution of his duties.
The matter came for hearing on 5 April 2018, however, Defence Counsel entered Seiuli’s change of plea.
“He also requested if the matter could proceed to sentence. Prosecution were ready to deliver the summary of facts orally.”
Judge Alalatoa accepted the change of plea and proceeded to hear from Prosecution who confirmed the maximum penalty for the offence was three months imprisonment.
“Naturally, I was troubled about this being aware of the time limitation for filing of charges relating to offences with a maximum imprisonment term of three months.”
“I also noted from the information that the alleged offending took place on 19 September 2013. The information was laid on 22 July 2017,” pointed out the District Court Judge.”
Judge Alalatoa enquired with prosecution if they were aware of the statutory limitation provision for filing certain charges in the Criminal Procedure Act 2016.
She recalled the case and took the Counsel’s attention to s16 C.P.A. and that on her reading of the Act and applying that to the information laid out in 2017 that it was out of time, unless Prosecution could rely on subsection (2) to persuade her otherwise.
“I also enquired with the Prosecution if the alleged date of the offending remained the same, and they confirmed this.”
“It was also explained that it was only in July 2017 when Seiuli was re-interviewed by Police that it was discovered he allegedly gave false information in September 2013, hence the late filing of the charge.”
“Prosecution conceded the charge was caught by s16 C.P.A. but they put forth that the Court can take this into account as a factor in mitigation.”
“For the defence, Mr Brunt indicated he was going to address this in mitigation as well. I must say this approach does not sit well with me,” noted Judge Alalatoa.
According to Judge Alalatoa under Section 16 C.P.A. it is crystal clear from the information that the incident leading to the offence allegedly took place on 19 September 2013.
“The charge here was not laid until 22 July 2017 some 3 years and 10 months later after the alleged incident. “
“Whatever the explanation for the delay, the fact of the matter is, according to s16 CPA, this charge should have been filed by 20 September 2014 which is precisely a year after the incident.”
“Both Defence Counsel and Prosecution seem to be of the view that I can take this into account as a factor in mitigation. I do not favour this at all.”
I am bothered by a bigger concern of whether it is in the interest of justice that Seiuli be sentenced at all on this charge which was filed way out of time and in clear contravention of s16 C.P.A.
“I am also mindful that Seiuli had denied the charge right through but it was at the last hour that Counsel informed of the change of plea.
“Perhaps if defence counsel had cast his mind to this issue, it would have become apparent that a change of plea would not have been appropriate rather an application to quash the information should have been put forth.
“For the Prosecution, they should have considered withdrawing the charge rather than insisting on proceeding to sentence and suggesting using this as a mitigating factor.
“For my part, I cannot close my mind to the fact that there is a statutory provision dictating the time limit from which Police should file a charge of this nature.
“It should have been complied with. It is not the job of the Court to ascertain when to lay any information against an accused. That is strictly the Prosecution’s job. But it is my job to see to it that justice prevails,” stated Judge Alalatoa.
The District Court Judge noted that section 16 CPA is there for a reason.
“The policy in my view is to ensure the prompt prosecution of criminal charges and spare the defendant from the burden of having to defend a charge(s) after memories may have faded and possibility of evidence being tampered or lost.
“I venture further to say it also goes to the Constitutional right of an accused under Article 9(4) (a) to be informed promptly of the nature and cause of the charge against that person.
“This Court has inherent powers to ensure its processes are not used as an instrument of oppression or otherwise abused. It is the same powers which enable it to act effectively within its criminal jurisdiction. “In addition, this Court also has statutory powers under s66 District Court Act 2016 to quash information where there has been a miscarriage of justice,” stated Judge Alalatoa.
She referred to what may be deemed as a miscarriage of justice has been traversed authoritatively in cases such as Meredith Ainuu Lawyers v Muagututagata Peter Ah Him.
“This was an appeal from the District Court on a private prosecution for contempt of Court. “The learned C.J. Sapolu there stated that a miscarriage of justice would occur if the defect, irregularity or want of form has caused the defendant prejudice or has resulted in an abuse of process.
“What tantamount to an abuse of process is also settled law.
“I reiterate the legal proceeding here was brought outside of the time limited by s16. It should have never gotten this far.
“In my view, the fact that it even got to this stage is in itself an abuse of process that is prejudicial to Seiuli who has had to appear in Court a number of times to answer to this out of time charge.
“Perhaps with some due diligence (as in checking the law), the charge might not have been brought thereby avoiding it being in the criminal system for 8 months.
“But even when the statutory limitation was discovered this morning, Prosecution still persisted with it.
“In my view the conduct of the Prosecution of this charge does “offend the Court’s sense of justice and propriety and strikes at the public’s confidence in the Court’s processes.” So there is an abuse of process.
“Ultimately, there will also be a miscarriage of justice if I am to even entertain sentencing Seiuli in the clear knowledge the charge is statute barred.”
Judge Alalatoa concluded that the Court has the power to end proceedings where justice requires and where there is an abuse of process.
“For the reasons canvassed here, the information against Seiuli is therefore dismissed and or quashed.”