The government of Papua New Guinea has failed in a bid to stop the chief justice of the Supreme Court from presiding over case challenging the election of prime minister Peter O’Neill.
O’Neill’s lawyers had filed a motion asking the Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia to remove himself from hearing the case, because his son, Terry Injia, worked for a law firm employed by the opposition.
But Sir Salamo ruled on Wednesday there would be no conflict of interest after lawyers for former acting prime minister Sam Abal announced they had dropped Terry Injia’s law firm, Steeles Lawyers, earlier in the day.
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“He is no longer involved in this case,” Sir Salamo said, handing down his decision to a packed court room in Port Moresby.
“My son has not appeared in these proceedings heard before me and he has not appeared today.
“It was clear this morning that the firm has now withdrawn from the case.”
It was noted that Injia had filed briefs for his firm, but was not part of the case at hand.
Sir Salamo ruled that an application to have him dismissed could again be raised when the case is heard by the full court in mid-September, when the chief justice will sit on a panel of five judges charged with deciding if O’Neill’s election on the floor of parliament was constitutional.
O’Neill took office on August 2 after a surprise vote of 70 to 24 against the government of Sir Michael Somare, which at the time was being headed up by acting prime minister Sam Abal.
Less than two hours later, O’Neill had been sworn in as prime minister by the governor-general and Abal had announced he would challenge the vote in court.
Abal’s case centres on whether the office of prime minister was legally declared vacant when the vote took place on August 2, almost four months after Sir Michael left PNG for Singapore to undergo heart surgery.
There have no public appearances by Sir Michael sincehe left for Singapore in April, besides a radio interview where he denied he was sick.
Abal was joined in court on Wednesday by Arthur Somare, former public enterprises minister and the middle son of Sir Michael, who on Friday visited his father to deliver court documents relating to the ongoing constitutional battle.
Meanwhile, Abal is expected to return to court next week to hear the results of a case brought against him in January.
That case – over whether Abal was legally allowed take the post of acting prime minister for a brief period in December last year – is expected to be decided next Wednesday.