The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea has delayed its decision on whether prime minister Peter O’Neill legally took over from Sir Michael Somare, after a last ditch attempt to remove the chief justice.
Extra police had been flown in from across PNG to provide extra security for the expected constitutional decision, which could see a return of Sir Michael to the prime ministership.
There were no reports of violence after the surprise adjournment, which postponed the verdict until Monday.
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O’Neill’s lawyer, Philip Ame, presented an application to have Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia disqualified from delivering the verdict.
Armed with affidavits from three Port Moresby men, Ame alleged Sir Salamo had met with Sir Michael’s son, dumped MP Arthur Somare.
At the outset of the hearing, Sir Salamo said the affidavits would not be considered.
“It is a lie, Ame,” he said.
“While reading the statements you can take it that the statements in the affidavit are denied.” The affidavits allege Sir Salamo met with Arthur Somare at 2am on October 4 at the popular Ela Beach hotel in Port Moresby.
All three affidavits were introduced in the same way: the three men who claim to have seen Sir Salamo and Somare each “didn’t think anything of it until they’d told their wives the next morning”.
This revelation, and the fact none of the affidavits were sworn in by a court officer, brought laughs to the packed courtroom, where there was a heavy police presence.
The five-man bench announced its decision on whether Sir Salamo will recuse himself, as well as the verdict on O’Neill’s election, will be delivered at 1030 AEDT on Monday.
“We need to give some thought to these matters,” Sir Salamo said.
Outside the court, Somare said he denied having met with Sir Salamo.
Friday’s court session marks the third attempt by the O’Neill government to disqualify the chief justice since the constitutional hearings began in late August.
Supporters of Sir Michael launched the constitutional challenge immediately after O’Neill’s August 2 election, when MPs votes 70 to 24 to dump Sir Michael and replace him with O’Neill.
Sir Michael’s supporters argue there was no vacancy in the prime ministership despite a four-month absence by the 76-year-old political veteran, who had been recovering from heart surgery in Singapore.
As the drama unfolded in the courts on Friday, the Speaker of PNG’s parliament, Jeffery Nape, led a vote to ensure Sir Michael remains dumped from his East Sepik seat.
Sir Michael lost his seat in September for missing three sessions of parliament while he was in Singapore, but that has been challenged in the courts by Sir Michael’s supporters, who say he only missed two session without leave and was granted permission to miss a May session.
That challenge has been rolled into the main constitutional case.
However, parliament voted on Friday to rescind the May leave order on the grounds Sir Michael did not fully disclose the nature of his illness.