Court tells Solicitor General Banuve that he was brave for going to court without evidence in the beche-de-mer case of Dr Aipia
A COURT of Appeal hearing into a $50-Million compensation awarded by the High Court to local medical doctor, Reginald Aipia, has wound up in Honiara, with the Court President saying the government lawyer in the case, “must be a brave man” for coming to court without considering evidence.
“You must be a brave man to come without considering putting to court evidence,” President, Sir John Hansen, told Solicitor General, Savenaca Banuve, as the one-day hearing wound up in Honiara last Wednesday.
Mr Banuve was representing fisheries officials and police officers in the case, which related to beche-de-mer harvesting in the Ontong Java Atoll in the Malaita Outer Islands (MOI) in 2018.
Dr Aipia won the case in an appeal to the High Court, claiming he was wrongfully arrested, charged and detained. The High Court accepted Dr Aipia’s claims and awarded him $50-Million in compensation after assessing the claims, including loss of business.
The Government is appealing the award, claiming it is excessive.
Dr Aipia was represented by local lawyer, Wilson Rano and Timothy Matthews, a King’s Counsel (KC) from Australia. The title King’s Counsel was adopted after Prince Charles became King after the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, earlier this month.
The brave man comment relates to unsworn statements by police officers who investigated the initial claims of illegal beche-de-mer harvesting against Dr Aipia. The Government is relying on the unsworn police statements as evidence in its appeal.
Hearing the case was a three-member Court of Appeal panel, consisting of the President, Sir John Hansen, Judge Lunabek and Solomon Islands’ Chief Justice, Sir Albert Palmer.
Sir Albert was wrongly identified as Deputy Chief Justice, Rex Foukona, in our initial report on the case.
Banuve was also questioned about the numbering on statements tendered in court. The number on a copy submitted to the Court of Appeal did not correspond with the number on the document from which Mr Banuve was quoting.
The Court was told that the government filed its appeal on 21 July 2022 – almost four months ago – without making the changes to the numbering,
“That’s a considerable time to make changes. It is not satisfactory, is it?” the President said.
Use of words such as “surrender” and “peaceful arrests” which appear in the police statements also came under scrutiny at this week’s hearing.
“Surrender suggests resisting arrest. And there is no record of resisting of arrest by the defendant. Can you explain, the presiding President asked.
Banuve told the court the government’s appeal was based on the outcome of investigation undertaken by Fisheries Officers, supported by police.
The government, Banuve said, is relying on police statements as evidence in its appeal.
It was revealed in court however that the police statements were never made under oath.
Banuve argued the same statements were used in the initial High Court hearing of the case.
By Alfred Sasako