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Expert Witness : World News

Law Society warns of “death of free speech” in Fiji

Photo of Nigel Dodds for Your Expert Witness storyThe Law Society of England and Wales has warned that the prosecution and sentencing of a Fijian NGO and its director could signal the “death of free speech” in the Pacific island state.

Rev Akuila Yabaki, director of the Citizens’ Constitutional Forum on the island, was given a suspended three-month jail term and fined 20,000 Fijian dollars (about £7,000) for quoting a Law Society Charity report on the rule of law in Fiji.

The charge of contempt of court after the NGO produced a summary of the report in its newsletter, maintaining that there was no rule of law or freedom of expression in Fiji and that the independence of its judiciary could not be relied upon.

The report was written by Nigel Dodds (pictured), chair of the Law Society Charity, following a private research trip to Fiji in November 2011. Previous legal delegations, including an International Bar Association delegation, had been refused entry to the country.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 13 August 2013 17:07

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EU Prosecutor’s Office proposed to fight fraud

Picture of EU Commissioner Viviane Reding for Your Expert Witness storyThe European Commission has proposed the establishment of a European Public Prosecutor's Office to fight fraud within the EU. Its exclusive task, according to a statement issued by the Commission, will be “to investigate and prosecute and, where relevant, bring to judgement – in the member states' courts - crimes affecting the EU budget. The European Public Prosecutor's Office will be an independent institution, subject to democratic oversight.”

The annual loss to fraud of EU funds is estimated at £431m.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said: “As promised in my 2012 address on the State of the Union, the Commission has today proposed to set up a European Public Prosecutor's Office. This initiative confirms the Commission commitment to upholding the rule of law; it will decisively enhance the protection of taxpayers' money and the effective tackling of fraud involving EU funds. The Commission has also delivered on its commitments to reinforce and strengthening OLAF [the EU anti-fraud office] procedures applied to procedural guarantees, in line with the guarantees that the European Public Prosecutor Office will apply.”

The proposal means that the Commission is delivering on a promise to apply a “zero tolerance policy” towards fraud against the EU budget, said Vice-President Viviane Reding (pictured), who is also the EU's Justice Commissioner.

“Criminals who exploit legal loopholes to pocket taxpayers’ money should not go free because we do not have the right tools to bring them to justice,” she said. “Let's be clear: if we, the EU, don't protect our federal budget, nobody will do it for us. I call on member states and the European Parliament to rally behind this important project so that the European Public Prosecutor's Office can assume its functions as of 1 January 2015.”

Algirdas Šemeta, the EU’s anti-fraud Commissioner, added: “The European Public Prosecutor's Office will ensure that protecting the EU budget is given proper priority throughout Europe. It will bridge the gap between member states’ criminal systems, whose competences stop at national borders, and Union bodies that cannot conduct criminal investigations. Meanwhile, OLAF will continue to do important anti-fraud work in areas not covered by the new office. The ideas we have presented today to further improve its governance, combined with the recent reform, will make OLAF more efficient and more accountable in this work. As such, our success in fighting and deterring EU fraud will increase greatly.”

The rate of successful prosecutions concerning offences against the EU budget varies considerably from one member state to another, with an EU average of just 42.3%. Many cases are not prosecuted at all, allowing fraudsters to get away with exploiting legal loopholes and pocketing citizens’ money, according to the statement. Even when cases are prosecuted, there is a large disparity across Member States in terms of conviction rates for offences against the EU budget.

Under the EU Treaties, Denmark will not participate in the European Public Prosecutor's Office. The United Kingdom and Ireland will not participate either unless they voluntarily and explicitly decide to ‘opt in’. The Commission’s proposal needs the support of all EU member states and approval from the European Parliament before it can be adopted.

A European Criminal Bar Association (ECBA) spokesman said that it welcomes the initiative and will “contribute constructively” to the debate “in the near future” after careful consideration of the proposal. He said that the ECBA welcomes especially the “integration of certain procedural safeguards”, even those not “harmonised by EU legislation yet”, such as the rights to silence, to legal aid and to hear witnesses.

 

Last Updated on Sunday, 21 July 2013 14:36

Crown defending expert Lundy witness

(New Zealand) The Crown is defending its expert witness who identified a physical link between convicted double-murderer Mark Lundy and the bloody scene of his wife and daughter's deaths.

Deputy solicitor-general Cameron Mander tonight told the Privy Council in London that Texan pathologist Dr Rodney Miller had vast experience in the area of immunohistochemistry, or IHC, the technique used to identify human tissue on one of Lundy's polo shorts as brain matter.

That and the presence of DNA from Lundy's wife Christine was said by the Crown at Lundy's trial to prove he was the killer.

Lundy's appeal lawyer, David Hislop, QC, has dismissed Miller's work as shonky science.

Lundy is serving a 20-year minimum jail sentence for the murders of his wife Christine, 38, and daughter Amber, 7, on August 29, 2000, in the family's Palmerston North home.

The 57-year-old maintains his innocence and Hislop has said a sample of the human tissue, obtained by forensic agency Environmental Science and Research (ESR), was in bad condition and was only taken from the shirt 59 days after it was seized.

Early on day three of the appeal hearing, Mander said all this was a "red herring", as Miller took his own samples before using the IHC technique to say the substance was brain matter.

"It's no secret that the ESR slide had been taken 59 days after [the shirt's] seizure."

It was that sample neuropathologist Dr Heng Teoh viewed. He said it would be wrong to convict Lundy on the basis that it contained brain tissue, but notes of this were not given to the defence team at Lundy's 2002 trial.

An opinion Hislop had obtained from forensic pathologist Dr Helen Whitwell said the examination of the human tissue should have been performed by a neuropathologist who had the appropriate expertise.

Mander said: "Nothing has been cited in support of the proposition [from Hislop and Whitwell]".

On the second day of the hearing overnight yesterday, Mander said Lundy's appeal was based on trying to relitigate what was heard at his trial.

"One can't take the trial as some sort of curtain-raiser".

At the trial the Crown said the killings happened about 7pm, with cellphone records placing Lundy 150 kilometres away in Petone at 5.30pm and 8.28pm.

He was said to have driven home, gone to his bedroom and killed his wife and daughter, cleaned up and returned south in that time.

Christine and Amber Lundy bought food from McDonald's about 5.45pm and Crown witness Dr James Pang said they were killed about an hour and 10 minutes after they ate.

Hislop has dismissed Pang's "flawed science", but Mander defended it.

If the killings happened later in the night the pair would have had to have eaten well after their purchases or not digested their meal normally, based on Pang's findings, Mander said.

The appeal hearing is expected to finish tomorrow morning (NZ time).

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 08:23

Former Dolphin jailed after patting lawyer’s behind

An American football star has been jailed for 30 days after his plea bargain on a parole violation case was rejected by a judge in Florida. The judge imposed the sentence after former Miami Dolphins star Chad Johnson slapped his lawyer on the behind. Judge Kathleen McHugh said she did not think he was taking his court appearance seriously.

The lawyer had worked out the plea bargain, which was on the point of being accepted, when the incident happened, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The report said: “Johnson…was seconds away from walking out of the Broward County courthouse Monday after working out a plea deal for probation violation in a 2012 domestic violence case. But when Broward County complimented his lawyer, Johnson saluted the attorney as though he were a team-mate after a good play – with a pat on the behind. The gesture drew chuckles from audience members in the courtroom, but McHugh fumed.

The judge reportedly said: “Mr Johnson, I don't know that you're taking this whole thing seriously. I'm not going to accept these plea negotiations. This isn't a joke.”

Despite an apology from Johnson, the 30-day jail sentence was accompanied by an order to perform 25 hours of community service and attend two counselling sessions per week – which had been part of the plea negotiation. She also extended his probationary period.

Johnson’s attorney asked Judge McHugh to reconsider her decision, but according to the Sun Sentinel, she “wouldn’t budge”, stating that it was not the first time the slapping had happened – a statement Johnson did not deny. 

Johnson – whose nickname in his playing days was Ochocinco after the number on his jersey in Spanish – told the judge: “My life is in a shambles right now, and I try my best to laugh and to keep a smile on my face.”

The newspaper article continued: “Johnson, who was signed up as a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins last season, pleaded no contest last year to a battery charge after his wife, reality TV star Evelyn Lozada, accused him of head-butting her during an argument in their Davie home last August. The charge signalled the end of their 11-week marriage, as well as Johnson's football career.”

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 June 2013 11:23

Tax evasion and fraud rise to top of EU agenda

Photo of EC President Herman van Rompuy for Your Expert Witness storyFighting tax evasion and tax fraud was one of the two main themes at the European Council meeting on 22 May.

According to a statement issued by the council after the meeting, every year EU member states lose around one trillion euros because of tax evasion and avoidance a sum that corresponds approximately to the EU's budget over seven years.

Its President, Herman Van Rompuy (pictured), declared: “It's high time to step up the fight against tax fraud and tax evasion. We have seen headline after headline highlight loopholes in tax systems, fuelling indignation – and rightly so. At a time of fiscal pressure and social tensions, fighting this is a matter of fairness and credibility.

“So I am pleased that today's European Council managed to unblock a number of frozen files. There is movement, a real acceleration, with clear deadlines for result.”

Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 17:03

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