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PNG judge rejects bias allegations

21:28 Tue Apr 3 2012
AAP

The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea is expected to rule on Wednesday on whether the Chief Justice should remove himself from constitutional hearings on the legitimacy of the government, amid allegations of a conflict of interest.

Lawyers for the government of Peter O'Neill have moved to have Sir Salamo Injia recuse himself from overseeing the hearings, arguing the Chief Justice would indirectly benefit from finding against the government.

Since controversially taking office last August, the government has tried repeatedly to suspend Sir Salamo - citing conflicts of interest and a police investigation into his handling of court finances.

The court has repeatedly issued stays on his suspension.

"It appears that ... the orders of the suspension on the chief justice rely on the outcome of this reference," said Attorney-General Allan Marat's lawyer, Tiffany Twivey.

"This therefore, we submit, raises the apprehension of bias."

After taking half an hour to deliberate, the five-man bench adjourned until 9.30am (AEST) on Wednesday to make a decision.

Earlier, the government failed in a bid to have another judge, Justice Nicholas Kirriwom, recuse himself from he case.

Justice Kirriwom on Tuesday told the court in Port Moresby he saw no reason to step down after a memo bearing his signature and calling on judges to band together against attacks from the government was leaked online.

"Since my appointment as a judge (15 years ago) my name has not been so politicised," he said.

"I find no good reason to recuse myself, and I will not recuse myself from this reference unless my brother judges ... rule I must recuse."

Government lawyers argued that it didn't matter if the document was written by Justice Kirriwom, only that an apprehension of bias existed because the document bore his signature and had been seen by members of the public.

Earlier, Justice Kirriwom neither accepted nor denied authorship of the memo, but said its leaking and the use of his name had amounted to an invasion of privacy.

"For me, I would rather walk away from this case now and have a good night's sleep and rest than subject me and my family to the undue stresses that we have been subjected to since November 2011," he said, referring to government attempts to suspend the chief justice.

"I am neither denying or admitting authorship of that publication when it is not before the court."

Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah - who joined the motion for Justice Kirriwom to step down - took out a full-page ad in local newspapers last month calling on Justice Kirriwom and Sir Salamo to step down.

Sir Salamo was arrested last month on charges of trying to pervert the course of a police investigation into his handling of court funds.

A week later the court issued a permanent stay of proceedings.

Hearings into whether the O'Neill government's decisions since it controversially took office on August 2 were legal were supposed to begin on Monday, but counsel for the Attorney-General applied on Monday to have Justice Kirriwom removed.