Lawyer shortage exposes Papua New Guinea to suits

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) When a government lawyer fails to show up, judges are obliged to rule in favor of those claiming damages.

Such "vexatious claims" in the South Pacific island nation are "a major source of lost revenue for the country," a senior Australian official said Friday at a senate inquiry into Canberra's aid to its impoverished neighbor.

Lucinda Atkinson of the Australian Attorney General's office did not say how much such claims cost the Papua New Guinea government or give any specific examples.

She said the Papua New Guinea Solicitor General's office was so short-staffed that often no government lawyer was available to attend court hearings.

"So often people will take advantage of that and make vexatious claims against the PNG government and when the Solicitor-General's litigators can't face up to court because they're booked in five other courtrooms at the same time, then the court has no choice but to award in favor of the claimant," Atkinson said.

Atkinson said her department had sent a legal adviser and a lawyer to help the island nation counter such suits.

Papua New Guinea, with a population of 6.1 million, is extremely poor and its people rely heavily on Australian foreign aid.

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