THE COURT has rejected the application to stay the criminal proceedings against Member of Parliament t (MP) for North East Guadalcanal Constituency Ethel Vokia and her husband Jamie Vokia and three others.
Their lawyer had made an application for permanent stay of proceedings because of abuse of process.
The prosecution however argued that there are no abuse of process in both charges and suggested that this matter be referred to the High Court to decide whether or not the filing of the charge against the accused is an abuse of the court process.
Chief Magistrate Emma Garo in her ruling found that there is no abuse of process and therefore dismissed the application for permanent stay of proceedings.
She also decline to refer this matter to the High Court to deal with the allegation of Election of Bribery and adjourned this matter for plea and pre-trial conference on July 29.
That is when all accused will return to court again.
In relation to Mrs Vokia’s election bribery charge, Ms Garo ordered the defence counsel to indicate whether Mrs Vokia will elect a short form preliminary inquiry or a long form preliminary inquiry on the next court date.
The MP is facing the charge of Election Bribery contrary to section 126(1)(a) and (b)(ii) of the Electoral Act 2018.
She is jointly charged with her husband who is former MP Jamie Vokia along with three others, Rose Tala who is the Guadalcanal Provincial Assembly (MPA) and Moses Beacon and Polycarp Pereseni for the charge of Conspiracy to defeat justices and interference with witness, contrary to section 116(b) of the Penal Code 9 cap 26 to be read with section 21(a) of the Penal Code (Cap 26).
They all have applied to have the charges to permanently stay because of abuse of process.
Their lawyer had sought orders that the criminal proceedings instituted against them be permanently stayed because of abuse of process and that the Chief Magistrate has discretion if convinced by this application can refer this matter to the High Court.
The defence also sought orders for the criminal proceeding be permanently stayed pending the outcome of this case if referred to the High Court.
The grounds submitted are that the offence charge relates to the election petition against Jamie Vokia and the complainant Derek Sikua in an election petition case in the High Court.
Another ground raised was that the allegation raised by a witness Hilda in her sworn statement that she was prevented by all the accused from giving evidence in court against Jamie Vokia is a matter that should have been raised during trial in the election petition in the High Court.
It was also submitted was that medical evidence was presented before the High Court in the election petition case to show that the witness Hilda was unfit to give evidence and that she now comes before the magistrate’s court and will say that she was fit to give evidence had she been allowed to appear before the High Court.
In the case of the election bribery case against the MP, one of the grounds submitted was that bribery charge against her is a petition in disguise and if found guilty she would likely lose her seat.
It was further submitted that the criminal charge is an attempt to impugn Mrs Vokia’s election into Parliament under section 126 and 129 of the Electoral Act 2018.
The defence also submitted that under section 52 (1) of the Constitution the Magistrate’s Court has no jurisdiction to deal with questions arising from any persons being validly elected as Member of Parliament.
It was also argued that Mrs Vokia together with another person were equally found by Justice Emmanuel Kouhota in the high Court election petition case to have been involved in the bribery but only Mrs Vokia has been charged.
The prosecution case is that Ethel Vokia, Tala, Pereseni and Beason at Honiara aided and abetted Jamie Vokia between 20 and 27 January 2020 to prevent Hilda who was lawfully bound to appear and give evidence as witness from doing so.
In the election bribery case against Mrs Vokia, it was alleged that on 7 January 2018, at the National Referral Hospital in Honiara Ms Vokia gave $250 to Basil with the intention of Basil to influence Hilda and Walter to vote for her husband Jamie Vokia at the 2019 National General Election.
Ms Garo however found there were no abuse of process and therefore dismissed the application for permanent stay because of an abuse of process.
She said charge conspiracy to defeat the course of justice as alleged has no bearing on the election petition in the Sikua v Vokia.
“This charge relates to allegations that the defendants conspired to prevent Ms Hilda from giving evidence in the Sikua v Vokia election petition case.
“The acts alleged by prosecution in this charge relates actions alleged to have been taken by the defendants to prevent Ms Hilda from giving evidence in the election petition case between Sikua v Vokia High Court Civil case number 265 of 2019,” she said.
Ms Garo added that the submissions by the defence discussed the correspondence between lawyers regarding the withdrawal of Ms Hilda as a witness, that Ms Hilda had given inconsistence statements and that a doctor during the High Court hearing produced evidence to show that Ms Hilda was not fit to give evidence.
“What counsel must realise is that all these information which formed the basis of her submissions have all been presented to the court from the bar table.”
She said no sworn statements had been filed, no witnesses had been called to give evidence and no agreed facts were filed in accordance with section 21 (a) of the Evidence Act 2009.
“The court cannot decide legal issues in a vacuum.
Ms Garo said from the defence’s submissions it can be deduced that, the theory of the defence case is that Ms Hilda’s evidence, yet to be given in court is so lacking in credibility that the court should reject it.
She said the appropriate time to decide whether or not to reject the evidence of Ms Hilda is after hearing the evidence of all witnesses intended to be called by the Crown and not before taking the plea and hearing the evidence.
The defence had also submitted that the decision not to call Ms Hilda as a witness had been dealt with in the election petition case between Sikua and Vokia.
Ms Garo in her ruling stated that the aspect of the submission overlooks the nature of allegation that all five accused conspired to prevent Ms Hilda from giving evidence before the high Court during the hearing of the election petition case.
“It is for the trial court to hear the evidence and then determine whether or not the prosecution has proved all the elements of the offence of conspiracy to defeat the course of justice beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Mr Vokia lost his seat after the High Court found him guilty of three grounds of briberies last at the Election Petition hearing in 2020.
A By-Election was then held later in 2020 which saw Vokia’s wife, Ethel winning the North East Guadalcanal seat.
Sheena Kilua of Rano & Company represents the accused while Public Prosecutor Geitaba Waletofea appears for the Crown.
By ASSUMPTA BUCHANAN
Solomon Star, Honiara