Tongan ferry death perjury case dismissed on technicality

2nd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Perjury charges against a Tongan lawlord over a ferry disaster that killed 74 people have been quashed on a technicality, in a move the former attorney-general said undermined the legal system.

A Tongan court dismissed perjury allegations against Lord Ramsay Dalgety on Monday because indictments in the case had not been signed and dated.

Dalgety had been accused of giving false evidence to a royal commission into the sinking of the Princess Ashika last year, the Pacific nation's worst maritime disaster.

Tonga's former attorney-general John Cauchi, who resigned in April citing government interference in the legal system, said the decision raised questions about the independence of the country's judiciary.

"What can I say? It's an outrageous abuse of process," he told AFP.

Cachi, who since his resignation has returned to his native Australia, said the case would feed perceptions in Tonga that there was one law for ordinary citizens and another for the elite.

He said dismissing a case because of unsigned indictments was unprecedented.

"It's very sad that this sort of thing is happening. I think that people are very suspect about it," he said.

The Princess Ashika sank in August last year while on an overnight voyage from Nuku'alofa, the capital of the South Pacific nation, to an outlying island.

The royal commission described the tragedy as "scandalous" and found there was a lack of due diligence by the shipping firm and government when the unsafe ferry was bought.

Dalgety, a Briton who was made a lawlord by Tonga's King George Tupou V in 2008, was accused of perjury over his evidence to the royal commission into the disaster.

© 2010 AFP

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