Court rules for Filipaina and Ovaleni to be kept at Apia Police Station

Notorious criminal Tagaloasa Filipaina Faisauvale and another inmate Ovaleni Poli Vaili will remain imprisoned at the Apia Police station.

That was the ruling delivered by Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala Warren last week.

Justice Tafaoimalo also dismissed the claim by the prisoners that their Constitutional rights had been breached by detaining them at the Apia police cell.

“As a way forward, I am encouraged by the evidence of the Commissioner of Prisons that once the new prison is completed, he will reassess moving the applicants there as the cells will be more secured,” Justice Tafaoimalo said.

“I encourage him (Prisons Commissioner) to make that assessment. Apia Police station while now legally a prison, was perhaps not designed for the permanent detainment of the prisoners. 

“One obvious shortcoming is that there is no place for the applicants to exercise outside. It is also obvious that having the applicants at the Apia Police station interferes with the core function of Police and requires them to act as Corrections officers, which they are not.” 

Justice Tafaoimalo added that the declaration sought by Tagaloasa and Ovaleni has been denied. 

“There is no breach to their Constitutional rights necessitating a remedy to be given by the Court. The Commissioner of Prisons and corrections authorities are encouraged to reassess the viability of taking the applicants to the new prison once completed with more secure cells.” 

Lawyer, Unasa Iuni Sapolu, represented Tagaloasa and Ovaleni.

Attorney General’s office lawyer, Sefo Ainu’u, was the prosecutor. 

The pair has kept at the Apia station since they were transferred there from Tafa'igata Prison on 9th February 2018.

It followed an alleged plot by the men to lead a mass prison break at the time. 

On 3 May 2018, the Apia Police Station was declared a prison by an Order from the Minister of Prisons. 

Both prisoners had argued they were removed from Tafaigata Prison without an appropriate misconduct process with natural justice accorded to them. 

“They say they have been punished without proper disciplinary proceedings on the basis of suspicion,” stated the ruling. 

“The prisoners were removed from Tafaigata prison on the basis of a report which the Commissioner of Prisons could not reveal because of risk to informants.   

“His evidence, which I accept is that he perceived a threat to safety and security and made the decision that the applicants needed to be removed from Tafaigata Prison to Apia Police station. “The ability of the Commissioner of Prisons to be able to transfer prisoners out of Tafaigata is one which must at all times be available to him, especially in matters of urgency and emergency.”

On the other hand, Tagaloasa and Ovaleni claim their privileges have been removed and they have been penalised.

The Commissioner of Prisons, Taitosaua Edwards Winterstein gave evidence that he moved the prisoners to the Apia Police station because he believed there was a threat to security and safety at Tafaigata and because the prison has no secure cells.

Justice Tafaoimalo said she finds the evidence of the Commissioner of Prisons to be plausible.

“I did not find any malice or ill will in his intentions,” she said. 

“I accept that he made a decision which he believed wholeheartedly was in the best interests of the prison population, and necessary for the safety and security of Tafaigata prison. 

“I find that the applicants were transferred for reasons of security and safety of Tafaigata Prison, and not as a penalty to them.”

In their evidence, the prisoners claim there has been a loss of privileges enjoyed by ordinary prisoners despite the lack of misconduct process thus far. 

These privileges they referred to include the open field space at Tafaigata prison, socialisation with other prisoners, access to musical instruments and television, no yard to exercise for an hour and reduced family contact. 

Food which lacks nutritional value especially for Tagaloasa who does not eat the food provided and particularly chicken as it makes him “physically unwell”.

Justice Tafaoimalo pointed out that the prisoners did not make known to the police that they wanted access to television, exercise musical instruments and reading materials or any other grievance they have brought to Court. 

The pair were housed in a separate house at Tafagaita prison and cooked their own food. 

They were housed together with several others away from the general prison population. 

“They therefore cooked the food they wanted to eat, as opposed to now being sent food from Tafaigata,” stated the ruling. 

“Their families continue to provide food. During the site visit, I saw a table outside the first applicant’s cell which had food from their families. 

The applicants have their own cells within a block of about 6 cells and while the first applicant has a window in his cell, the second named applicant does not have a window. 

“The whole space is air conditioned.” 

Compared to their previous accommodation at Tafaigata prison in a house, the cells at Apia Police station are restrictive. 

When assessed on their own, the cells are spacious, well lit and air conditioned. 

"I do not find that being housed in these cells amount to inhuman or degrading treatment," said Justice Tafaoimalo. 

"The possibility to request privileges was open to them but never voiced. 

"However, the ability to take part in worship and rehabilitative programs should be offered even if there is no request from the applicants."  

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