13 July 2009

Pires case 'highlights East Timor's legal failure'

By Sara Everingham in Dili for AM AM | abc.net.au/am - The lawyer for an Australian woman accused of trying to assassinate East Timor's President says the international community has failed to set up a proper legal system in the country.

Angelita Pires, an East Timor-born Australian, is the former girlfriend of rebel leader Alfredo Reinado.

She is accused of being an indirect author of the attack on East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta in February last year.

Darwin QC Jon Tippett has flown to Dili to join her legal team, but he complains he has only had access to the prosecution's case.

"Really, this is a case that you need, three, four, five months to prepare. Not a week," he said.

"We really have been significantly affected by the way the process here operates."

He says the defence team's own evidence shows the charges are baseless.

"If the evidence is treated correctly, then a very different picture will become available to the public of East Timor and to the Australian public, than they had access to today," he said.

But he is worried his client will not be given a fair trial.

He says the case shows the flaws in East Timor's justice system and the failure of the international community which helped set it up.

"Why should we give East Timor a legal system that is the equivalent of T-model Ford, when we can provide a modern, up-to-date vehicle that gives access to justice to not merely those who speak Portuguese and have money, but to those people who don't and don't have money," he asked.

"That could have been done. It simply wasn't, in my view, it's one of the most substantial failures that the United Nations has ever engaged in."

'Ready to fight'

Ms Pires is facing 21 charges including attempting to kill the President. She has been preparing her defence and says she is ready to fight each count.

"I'll never plead guilty and I'll never accept a pardon. Why should I?" she said.

"Accept a pardon for what? For something I haven't committed?"

In February last year a group of rebel soldiers attacked Dr Ramos Horta. He was shot outside his Dili home. Rebel leader Reinado was killed in the attack.

"If I have to go to jail simply because of my love for Alfredo Reinado, for my son, and for the people, so let it be, I'll face it," she said.

If found guilty, Ms Pires could go to jail for decades.

Out of the 28 people who go on trial today, she is facing some of the most serious charges.

Mr Tippett says Australia is also putting money into a system that does not work.

"It is a legal system that is outdated, it is unfair, it will create injustice, it has created injustice and we fear it will create injustice in our own case," he said.

But he says the Australian Government has given plenty of support to Ms Pires, helping her pay legal fees for a trial which could last for months.

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