Friday, April 27, 2012

Sentence reduced after false rape claim conviction

AN INDIAN national jailed for giving false information to a public servant had her sentence reduced from two years to 18 months.

Muskan Balaggan, 21, appealed against her sentence before the High Court in Suva.

In his judgment yesterday, Justice Daniel Goundar said in January last year, Balaggan arrived in Fiji from Australia on an Indian passport.

"When she was returning to Australia, after staying in Fiji for a few days, she was arrested at the Nadi International Airport and was charged with an offence under the Illicit Drugs Act," Justice Goundar said.

He said she engaged a prominent lawyer to represent her and to act as her surety. She stayed at the lawyer's residence in Suva while on bail.

He said on June 13, 2011, the appellant filed a formal complaint with the police that her lawyer raped her on numerous occasions at his residence.

Justice Goundar said Balaggan gave a signed statement to police, describing each episode of rape in detail.

A month later, Balaggan in an affidavit withdrew the rape allegations made against the lawyer saying they were not true and was made in a state of anger. Balaggan, who was now represented by Suva lawyer Samanunu Vaniqi appealed against her sentence on six grounds, five of which failed.

Justice Goundar said the final ground of appeal, the magistrate failed to properly take into account the mitigating factors provided by the appellant, had merits.

He took into consideration Balaggan's previous good character, guilty plea and that she was a young offender.

He told Balaggan that the aggravating factors in the case were that the false information was directed towards her lawyer and that she committed an offence while on bail.

"The lawyer-client relationship is of trust," Justice Goundar said.

"She violated that trust when she falsely accused him of rape.

"In her affidavit, the appellant said she was upset about her lawyer going on holidays in Australia while her case was pending. So she made out a false allegation of rape against her lawyer."

Justice Goundar said on an objective seriousness of the offence, a starting point of two years was appropriate.

He added 12 months to reflect the aggravating factors and reduced 18 months to reflect the compelling mitigating factors.