WHO WILL PAY?

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The High Court of Solomon Islands. Photo courtesy: SIBC online
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Queens Counsel Matthews to represent government MPs in petition cases

-Fee ranges from $17,000 to $28,000 per hour

-Opposition MPs to find their own lawyers

 

By EDDIE OSIFELO

QUEENS Counsel, Timothy Matthews from Brisbane, Australia will represent the 18 members of Parliament in the government who are facing petition in the High Court, it is reported.

The other 10 MPs who are also facing petition are members of the Opposition and Independent Group, therefore they will engage their own private lawyers.

A total of 28 of the 50 members in Parliament are facing petition.

And, the million-dollar question is “who is going to foot the bill of QC Matthews in the petition cases?”

Island Sun understands the estimated cost of the QC Matthews is around $17,000 ($3000 AUD) to $28, 450 ($5000 AUD) per hour.

A lawyer who wishes to remain anonymous said it is not right for the government to foot the bills of the government MPs because they were contesting as candidates during the election.

“If the government is going to foot the bills, then it is the tax payers’ money that will be paid to the QC.

“This is really unfair,” the lawyer said.

Further to that, the lawyer said it shows the government does not trust the local qualified lawyers in the country which led to it engaging QC Matthews.

The Attorney General Chambers earlier said its lawyers will represent the 28 Returning Officers in the petition cases filed against the Members of Parliament.

Currently there are 15 to 16 lawyers working in the AG Chambers.

A officer in the AG Chamber said they will have to spread the lawyers to represent the ROs because of the big number of cases before the High Court.

“We will only represent the ROs because the MPs are just candidates during the election.

“The MPs will need to find their own lawyers to represent them in the petition cases,” the officer said.

Under the Electoral Act 2018, an election petition can be filed by an elector to the constituency, to which the petition relates, or a candidate for the election in the constituency.

Such a petition must be filed within 30 days after the results of the election are published under Section 7 of the Electoral Act 2018.

The Act also states that the Courts must decide a petition within 12 months after it is filed.

So it means petition will be held between May 2019 to May 2020.

The petitions will test the efficacy of the new Act.

Aside from losing one’s seat, there are serious penalties for major offences such as election bribery and fraudulent voting.

The penalties include up to 15 years imprisonment and/or fines of over $155,990 ( $US19,000) as well as an automatic five-year ban on voting or standing in elections.

Lesser offences such as providing misleading information can still land offenders in jail for five years and possibly steep fines.

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