The Supreme Court delivered its ruling today, putting the trial, which was scheduled to commence on 14 January on halt, while it reviews the decision by the National Court, which allowed one ground in the petition to go for trial.
Leave to review the National Court’s decision was granted by the Chief Justice, who sat as a single Supreme Court judge, last month.
The National Court’s decision which will be reviewed, concerns the one ground, which was allowed to proceed to trial, after trial judge, Justice David Cannings, refused to entirely dismiss the petition on competency grounds.
This ground relates to the alleged errors and omissions by Electoral Commission officials, which resulted in 18,803 lawfully cast ballot papers or 28 ballot boxes not included during scrutiny.
After leave was granted, Minister for Public Enterprises and Investment and Hagen Open MP, William Duma, sought stay from the Supreme Court, on the trial proceeding.
“If the review is successful, it will determine the National Court proceeding,” Justice Derek Hartshorn said when reading the unanimous decision.
“If the trial proceeds, and either during the trial or after its conclusion, this court (Supreme Court) upholds the review, this would lead to amongst others, unnecessary costs being incurred by all parties, and a significant waste of court time,” the judgment went on to say.
“Further if the National Court trial proceeds at the same time as the review before this court, this would lead to quite inconsiderable inconveniences to all parties in them attempting to prosecute the two cases at once, in Waigani and in Mt Hagen.
“In our view, it is necessary and what is required to do justice in the circumstances of this case, is for the trial of the election petition in the National Court to be stayed,” the bench comprising Justice Ellenas Batari, Justice Hartshon and Justice Jacinta Murray said.
The Hagen open election petition trial, set to commence on January 14 is now stayed, pending the outcome of the review in the Supreme Court.
Puk’s petition is seeking a declaration that Duma’s election be voided and an order be made for either a by-election or a recount.
Picture: Loop PNG file picture of Petitioner James Puk (right) and his lawyer, on 30 October 2018, when the National Court allowed trial to proceed on one ground.