Cooks, Election Lawyers Face Potential Costs

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High Court addressing suits ‘without proper basis’

By Emmanuel Samoglou

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, July 31, 2014) – Lawyers representing election candidates who have lodged petitions are being told by the High Court they could be on the hook financially for fraud allegations made "without proper basis".

In a briefing released after a court hearing on Tuesday with legal representatives and candidates, Chief Justice Thomas Weston struck a hard tone on the legitimacy of allegations of fraud, some of which he described as "silly".

Weston said he will be asking judges to "consider the question of costs award against Counsel" – meaning lawyers could be hit with the bill for bringing weak allegations to court.

"I want to make it quite clear that these fraud allegations are regarded extremely seriously," he said.

Lawyer Tina Browne, who is representing a number of petitioning candidates, said Weston’s comments are not new and part of the Court’s practice of taking fraud allegations seriously.

Browne said none of her clients have made allegations of fraud, and she wasn’t sure as to which petitions or specific allegations the Chief Justice was referring to.

Weston further mentioned he was "disinclined to order discovery on the bribery allegations except in clear and limited circumstances".

The comments appear to be pointed towards Norman George - who is representing himself in his petitioning of results in Teenui Mapumai - as well as fellow Atiuan Eugene Tatuava.

Both candidates have claimed they have reason to believe that other offenses of bribery and treating may have occurred in their respective constituencies, but won’t have access to evidence unless court-ordered discoveries are in place.

Allegations of bribery and treating have featured prominently in a number of the petitions filed in court, with candidates being accused of offering cash, outboard motors, cartons of chicken, motorbikes, and food, in return for votes.

Yesterday, lawyer Tony Manarangi – who is representing a number of candidates from the Cook Islands Party – said he will "definitely" be defending petitions lodged against his clients, but it was too early to say if there will be counter petitions at this stage.

Due to time constraints and a clause in the constitution that requires a sitting of parliament within three months of the July 9 election date, Weston said "real pressure" will be placed on everyone involved.

"That may well mean that some lawyers from time to time are going to be working 24/7; it may mean some of the parties and those helping the lawyers will be doing the same, but my expectation is that you will do that," he said.

Browne acknowledged Weston’s concerns, and said all parties will likely be kicking it into high gear after reports began circulating yesterday that Justice Hugh Williams has indicated his availability for the week of August 18 to begin proceedings.

"There is a risk that if you do not meet directions that are made either today or over the next few days that there may be strikings-out or costs consequences," further warned Weston.

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