Government ordered to pay lawyer for illegal arrest and detention

The Government has been ordered by the Court to pay over VT1.5 million in damages to a legal officer that was arrested and illegally held by Police on May 12, 2020.

Legal counsel Christina Thyna Gesa claimed that police officers arrested her in front of students and bystanders at the University of the South Pacific and took her to the station where they searched her, removed her bag and valuables before locking her up for two hours.

They found that Mrs Gesa, who is a registered barrister owning Cornerstone Lawyers legal firm, had failed to appear for one of her cases due to her arrest.

Justice Oliver Saksak said prior to the arrest by police, Mrs Gesa had written to the Assistant Commissioner of Police at that time, Jackson Noal and the officer in charge of the Police Investigation Branch, Andrew Kalman, that their approaches towards her client amounts to an abuse of power and an abuse of the process of lodging a complaint with the police.

The lawyer stated in her letter that they have informed the Police Professional Standards Unit about the officers’ actions.

Justice Saksak said the police were pressurising Mrs Gesa’s client to produce an untruthful statement against Former Chairman of Public Service Commission (PSC), Martin Mahe, about an incident that happened on April 4, 2020.

In her letter, Mrs Gesa said, “Your illegal intention is clearly to fish for information to compile an “harassment case” against Mr Mahe”.

“You have requested our client, against her wish and/or knowledge to attend at the police station today to sign a statement compiled by yourself against Mr Mahe”.

But when the letter reached the Police Officers, they reportedly proceeded to arrest her on the basis that she was trying to obstruct a police investigation contrary to section 73A of the Penal Code Act.

After her release, Police informed Mrs Gesa that she was charged with obstructing police officers on duty and conspiracy to defeat the course of justice. She was told to attend Court on June 24, 2020 at 9am.

Justice Saksak found that no charges had been laid against Mrs Gesa and no summons were issued.

The complainant attended the Magistrate’s Court with Mrs Mary Grace Nari on June 24, 2020 but were advised that no case has been registered against them.

Mrs Gesa then filed this claim pursuant to Article 6 of the Constitution, claiming that her rights to security of person, protection of the law, freedom of movement and equal treatment under the law, pursuant to Article 5 (1)(c), (d), (i) and (k) of the Constitution were infringed by police officers as agents of the State.

The Supreme Court Judge said that the action itself was a serious omission or failure on the part of the Police.

After arriving at the conclusion, Justice Saksak said: “For Mrs Gesa to be arrested by 5 police officers and detained, was high handed and undeserving.

“In my view Mrs Gesa is entitled to compensation in the sum of VT1,500,000.

“Accordingly, I order an award of VT 1,500,000 as compensation to be paid by the State to Mrs Gesa.”