Caretaker P.M. and A.G. absent for contempt of Court citation

The non-appearance of the Caretaker Prime Minister and the Attorney General in a case where they are cited for contempt of Court was raised when the matter was called this week.

Lawyer Matafeo George Latu acting for the appellant - the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.) party - said the matter at its outset is a quasi-criminal matter for contempt of Court. 

Matafeo told the Court that a quasi-criminal matter has been practiced in Court and those accused of contempt of the law have to appear in person as it is a criminal matter. 

(A quasi criminal proceeding can be instituted by a private citizen on behalf of the Government and is a lawsuit that has some qualities of a criminal prosecution.) 

The lawyer noted that the only respondent present in Court was Tiatia, the third respondent. 

But the quasi-criminal issue was disputed by the leading defence lawyer for caretaker Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Attorney-General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale. 

New Zealand’s Queen’s Counsel, Dr. Rodney Harrison - who is representing Tuilaepa and Savalenoa  in the proceeding, and participated through video link -  disagreed with the contention from Matafeo. 

Other respondents who are cited for contempt of Court include outgoing Speaker, Leaupepe Toleafoa Faafisi and Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei. 

Dr. Harrison said the matter is a civil contempt application and not a criminal matter. 

“The standard of proof is a matter yet to be addressed in the substantive hearing,” he argued. 

“The suggestion that all respondents should be present – I don’t accept that it is necessary in this respect. It’s simply a mention meeting and it should address the usual matters for such meeting.”  

In addition Dr. Harrison is also seeking particulars on the allegations of scandalising the Court against the caretaker Prime Minister and the Attorney General. 

Ruby Drake, acting on behalf of the outgoing Speaker, said she agrees that the matter is a quasi-criminal matter. 

She apologised that her client was unable to attend the case because he is confined to a wheelchair and she was unsure if the lift at the Court House was working. 

Mrs. Drake said her client’s non-appearance in Court is not out of disrespect for the Court but for reasons she raised. 

Steve Chan Chui who appeared for the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly also agreed it was a quasi-criminal case. 

He said this was the reason why he asked his client to appear in Court. 

Chief Justice, His Honour Satiu Simativa Perese said because it a quasi-judicial matter he would grant leave for the non-appearance and will release the proper course for the proceeding later. 

He adjourned the matter to 28 June for mention again, giving time to Dr. Harrison to make a submission on his opposition to the quasi-criminal matter. 

The F.A.S.T. lawyers are also ordered to provide particulars on the allegations leveled at the caretaker Prime Minister and the Attorney General. 

The citation for contempt of Court mounted by F.A.S.T. stemmed from a public statement made by Tuilaepa that allegedly undermined the Court and disobeying Court orders to convene parliament. 

F.A.S.T. is asking the Court to find Tuilaepa in contempt of court on grounds of “scandalising the Court and attempted and actual obstruction of the Court’s processes.” 

According to a copy of the motion, F.A.S.T. claims Tuilaepa “has repeatedly made contemptuous remarks in public statements attacking and seeking to undermine the independence and authority of the Court…” 

Examples were drawn from articles published in the Samoa Observer titled “Court severely undermines constitution: Tuilaepa” dated 21 May 2021. 

The Court of Appeal ruled that a minimum of 10 per cent provided for in the Constitution for women's seats means 6 and not 5 women in Parliament. 

According to the grounds of the motion it noted following the decision of the Court, Tuilaepa stated that “only unconstitutional things are about to happen” and that the Constitution has been “severely undermined”. 

It further noted in respect of the 23 May decision of the Supreme Court in the matter between F.A.S.T. versus Electoral Commissioner and others, Tuilaepa stated that “we know the Supreme Court decision was dishonest” and that the Court was “dirtying the name of the Office of the Head of State”. 

“When, consequent on the 20 May proclamation of the Head of State, article 52 of the Constitution and the decisions of this Court of 17 and 23 May, the Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court attempted to attend the opening of Parliament,” the motion stated. 

“The first respondent [Tuilaepa] asserted that that attendance was unlawful and showed that the “Supreme Court is aligning itself with” the first applicant [F.A.S.T.]

“On 24 May, the first respondent asserted, despite the declarations of this Court and of the Court of Appeal in Electoral Commissioner & anor v Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi & anor, that “the court cannot tell us to do this and that”. 

On the attempted and actual obstruction of the Court’s process citation, the caretaker Prime Minister is accused of failing to advise the Head of State in accordance with the decisions of the Court. 

The contempt of court citation was filed by the F.A.S.T. party and Prime Minister-elect, Fiame Naomi Mataafa.

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