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Illegal possession of arms and ammunition: Laura Valabhji’s appeal against rejection of bail application by Supreme Court   |09 August 2022

Court of Appeal to give its ruling on August 19


The Court of Appeal has set Friday August 19, 2022, at 9am, for it to give its decision on whether Laura Valabhji, charged in the case of illegal possession of arms and ammunition, will be granted bail.

The ruling was given by appeal Judge Fiona Robinson, following a day’s hearing of submissions from state prosecutors Stefan Knights and George Thachett and Mrs Valabji’s defence team from the United Kingdom – James Lewis assisted by Miranda Ching.

Mrs Valabhji had filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal against a ruling made by the Supreme Court on March 25, 2022, to refuse her bail in the case.  She was representing herself at that time.

In his submission, defence lawyer Lewis argued that his client is qualified to be released on bail as the prosecution lacks proof of evidence. He noted that the evidence served so far falls significantly short of a prima facie case against his client and that it is incumbent upon the prosecution, when inviting the Court to revoke her fundamental and constitutional right to bail by reason of the supposed strength of the evidence, to (i) refer to the actual evidence, rather than rely on supposition; and (ii) proffer direct evidence against Mrs Valabhji specifically, rather than repeating a generalised description of the case as a whole.

Lawyer Lewis stated that the prosecution has identified no direct evidence establishing Mrs Valabhji’s knowledge of any of the items found during the searches and accordingly, mere evidence of a person’s residence in a property in which firearms are allegedly discovered, alone, is insufficient to support a charge of possession or conspiracy to possess.

He further stated that there is no photographic or video evidence linking her with any of the items found, there are no documents establishing her knowledge of any of the items found, there is no physical evidence, such as fingerprints, connecting Mrs Valabhji to any of the materials seized and if anything, that certain weapons allegedly were found behind a wall which had to be demolished, rebuts any possible inference that she knew of them – and the prosecution has presented no evidence of her actual knowledge.

He added that no evidence has been served from which any inference could be drawn against his client of a terrorist purpose or intent and also contested whether the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Supreme court on questions of bail.

He said his client has no past criminal records and she had no knowledge of any arms being hidden in the house she lived with her husband Mukesh Valabhji.

State prosecutor Knights, representing the Attorney General, stated that if the Court of Appeal is to consider an appeal against the ruling of March 25, 2022, it is respectfully submitted that it should do so with the benefit of taking into account the further materials put before Chief Justice Rony Govinden.

He said that evidence against Mrs Valabhji is strong which compounds concern and gives her greater incentives to flee from justice, commit further offences or interfere with evidence if released on bail.

Other than Justice Robinson, Supreme Court judge David Esparon and Ugandan justice Lilian Tibatemwa were the two other judges to hear the appeal submissions. Justice Tibatemwa was following the hearing session on zoom.  The three judges co-opted to join the Court of Appeal bench to hear this case, to ensure that the minimum of three Justices be present on the bench hearing appeals, as is customary, to promote more fairness. This follows Justice Samia Andre and Court of Appeal President, Justice Anthony Fernando being recused from the case.

In a Court of Appeal ruling made on  July 5, 2022, Justice Andre recused herself from the case because in the same year, and immediately prior to the arrests made, she had involvements with Mrs Valabhji, both in her professional and personal capacity, in helping to purchase for her (Justice Andre) a property while in the preliminary hearings of the bail appeal in July 2022, Mrs Valabhji also requested that Justice Fernando recuse himself from the case due to her having appeared before him previously as an attorney.

By law, Judges and Justices have to recuse themselves from cases if they feel that their previous or ongoing interactions could be seen as affecting their impartiality; either if they are related, had any business dealings, or having had previous interactions that could be perceived as causing bias. It is to be noted that Seychelles being a small jurisdiction and having dealt with a person before the courts outside of the case are very likely.


Patrick Joubert


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