admin's picture


By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 17, 2000 – Agence France-Presse)---Fiji’s prosecutors hauling coup plotters before court have a secret weapon -- a blueprint that came out of a bloody putsch in Trinidad and written by the law lords of the Privy Council in London.

Senior sources close to the prosecution both here and in Fiji say a 1994 council judgment is crucial to locking up failed businessman George Speight and his henchmen on treason, murder and of other charges related to their May 19 coup.

Speight argues they were granted immunity and should be freed but in common law, to which Fiji’s legal community is a subscriber, the claim has been argued and lost.

The influence of the 1994 judgment was apparent last week in the Fiji High Court when New Zealand funded lawyers from Australia, Hong Kong and New Zealand defeated Speight's Writ of Habeas Corpus freedom bid.

"It’s all been argued before," one lawyer told AFP. "It’s in the Privy Council judgment."

On July 27, 1990, Yasin Abu Bakr, and 113 others, all members of the Black Muslim group Jamaat al Muslimeen, seized Trinidad and Tobago’s (T and T's) Parliament, taking Prime Minister Arthur Robinson, ministers and members hostage. Robinson, bound hand and foot, was shot in the leg.

Acting President Joseph Carter later in the day issued an amnesty to the Muslimeen but it was another six days before they released their captors.

Bakr and company were arrested on treason and murder charges related to the 23 dead, sparking the legal battle, which led to the Privy Council. They were held in jail for two years before being released on Habeas Corpus.

Speight and Special Forces soldiers on May 19 seized Parliament and took Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and his government hostage for 56 days.

They were freed after Speight received an amnesty but were arrested July 26 on capital treason charges. Prosecutors say the amnesty was invalid, as conditions had not been kept, including the return of stolen military arms.

Since then the legal map has been complicated with Speight making a number of appearances in both the Magistrate's and High Court.

Another case against a supporter charged with shooting and wounding will next month come before the Court of Appeal, which is made up of Australian and New Zealand circuit judges.

Legal sources say that while Fiji dropped the Privy Council appeal, its judgments have profound standing.

The law lords sat for 10 days in 1994 after a T and T's Court of Appeal ordered Bakr released because of their amnesty and ordered damages for the illegal detention.

T and T argued that the amnesty offer was invalid because a pardon could only relate to offences committed and not to those later committed. It was also invalid as the offences continued after the pardon.

In the judgment written by Lord Woolf the Council provided the arguments, which will now be used against Speight.

Pardons can only relate to offences already committed, not those not yet committed.

"This is a principle of general application which is of the greatest importance," Woolf said.

"The state cannot be allowed to use a power to pardon to enable the law to be set aside by permitting it to be contravened with impunity."

The Council dismissed duress and, in an indication of the role of the judgment in Fiji prosecutors, they have stopped arguing this issue.

Governments are regularly faced with making decisions under great pressure.

"This is part of the heavy responsibility of the office and, at least in any but the most exceptional of situations, if a head of state or a government grants a pardon, it cannot avoid the consequences of that grant because it would have acted differently but for the pressure which existed," Woolf said.

The key for the council was the failure of the Muslimeen to respond to the amnesty for four days and not releasing their hostages. This action, Woolf said, deemed the amnesty invalid.

Trinidad's state won on constitutional grounds but found that the rebels could not be recharged due to the success of their earlier Writ of Habeas Corpus.

Bakr remains leader of the still influential Muslimeen. Speight is still in detention on a prison island near Suva.

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail:  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: 

Rate this article: 
Average: 4 (2 votes)

Add new comment