Court strikes out Fata's legal challenge

The Supreme Court has struck out a legal challenge by Sagaga No. 2 General Election candidate, Fata Ryan Schuster, against the Office of the Electoral Commissioner.

The decision, handed down by Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Fepulea'i Roma Ameperosa, means Fata's hopes of contesting April's election have been dashed.

Fata's challenge was one of 20 petitions lodged against the decisions by the Electoral Commissioner about candidates’ eligibility.

At the centre of the matter was the official registration of Fata's matai title, which was conferred in 2014. The Court was told that after the title bestowal, the Lands and Titles Court declared the title void in 2015. 

The 2015 decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal this year.

Lawyer, Leulua'ialii Tasi Malifa, who represented Fata, argued that since the Court of Appeal "modified" the original decision, it had to be questioned when the confirmation of Fata’s matai title took effect. 

"It has to at least begin from somewhere," he asked the Court.

Leulua'ialii argued that whether titles take effect from the date they are conferred, advertised in the Government newspaper, or the Court of First Instance’s decision, the requirement for Fata Ryan to hold a matai title for three years was met. 

But the Supreme Court ruled that after the Court declared the matai title void, it was non-existent until that decision was overruled in 2020.

Justice Vui acknowledged that Fata continued to render monotaga to the village in what he saw was his duty as a good matai, but said that the "legal status" of his title was simple fact.

"Once the Land and Titles Court declared it was void [and] until the Court reinstates that, it's gone," he said.

"So this is the difficulty with your argument: that you are somehow saying the decision in 2020 must be backdated to the date of the saofa'i [the formal acceptance of a new matai], now that would be fine, but there is nothing in the law that says you can do that."

Leuluaiali'i argued that the Electoral Commissioner had violated Fata's fundamental right in accordance with Article 6 of the Constitution. 

Justice Vui said this was "stretching" it for the applicant, knowing that such provisions in the Constitution refer to unlawful detainment, which was not the intention of the Electoral Commissioner. 

Eventually, after a ten minute deliberation in private by the two Justices, a decision was delivered.

The applicant’s challenge was declared struck out, Justice Vui announced, saying the written decision will be distributed soon to both party counsels. 

This is the first decision handed down by the Court on the 20 petitions filed 

Fata, from Afega, had intended to run as an independent candidate.

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