HRPP leader guilty of contempt of court

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Leader of the Human Rights Protection Party, Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi has been found guilty of contempt of court.

The ruling was handed down today by overseas Justices, Robert Fisher and Raynor Archer. The claim was brought on by FAST and Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa. 

Others found guilty of contempt are HRPP Secretary and Member of Parliament Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi and Lawyer, Maiava Visekota Peteru. The Court however opted not to render penalty, given “very special circumstances”. 

During the virtual hearing held earlier this month, former Prime Minister Tuilaepa, Deputy Leader Fonoteo Lauofo Meredith, and HRPP Secretary Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi; Maiva Visekota Peteru and Tologata Sioeli Alofaifo submitted sworn affidavits apologizing to the court and they “unreservedly withdraw” the statements made publicly. 

Fonotoe and Tologata, along with former Attorney General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, former Clerk of the House, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, and the Former Speaker of the House, Leaupepe Toleafoa Fa’afisi were acquitted of the contempt charge.

According to the 39-page decision, an amended statement of claim set out certain remarks made by Tuilaepa “that sought to bring the Court into contempt and undermine its authority”.

He filed a statement of defence but offered no evidence challenging the facts asserted by the applicants.

“In general terms, they were highly critical of the Court decisions and critical of the Judges involved in those decisions, to the point of abuse and insult.”

The court noted that by accusing the Court of being in collusion with the FAST Party, and by using insulting words such as “treason” and “tricks” to describe judges, the first respondent undermined public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.

In undermining the authority of the Judges he undermined the rule of law.

“Accordingly, we find the first respondent to be in contempt of court in making the statements referred to,” ruled the court. 

Regarding the obstruction claim against Tuilaepa the court noted there is no doubt that the Head of State did reject important Court decisions.

“And on all the evidence before us, it is reasonable to conclude that in doing so the Head of State was acting on the first respondent’s advice.

“In other circumstances that might have made the first respondent guilty of aiding and abetting a contempt. “However no coercive order was made against the Head of State nor could it have been.

“The first respondent cannot be a party to the breach of a coercive order if there was no such order, to begin with.”

The court ruled that Tuilaepa cannot be guilty of encouraging someone else to breach a coercive order if there was no such order, to begin with.

The defiance of court orders claim, the court ruled that for technical reasons they cannot give rise to contempt by obstruction.

For Leala the court says he did not seek to defend these statements or suggest there was any truth in them. He unreservedly withdraws them.

“These statements of the fifth respondent, which are the most extreme of those pleaded, plainly express contempt for the Court.

“As we have said in relation to the First Respondent, by accusing the Court of being in collusion with the FAST Party, and by using insulting words such as “coup”, “cursed” and “crooked” to describe the judges, the fifth respondent inevitably undermined public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.

“He even stated that the Chief Justice “…was coming to kill us”. In so undermining the authority of the Court, he undermined the rule of law.

“Accordingly, we find the fifth respondent to have been in contempt of court in making the statements alleged.”

The sixth respondent Maiava a Solicitor of the Supreme Court and in her affidavit does not challenge the evidence provided by the applicants.

“We set out the most egregiously denigrating and insulting extract from these statements: Statements made by the Sixth Respondent on a livestream panel interview shown on TV1 and other platforms on 15 August: “We are doing all of this as the opposition including criticisms of wrong and dishonest decisions currently happening” and that the second applicant “is bold because … she has the judiciary”.

“These statements express contempt for the Court. By unjustifiably using the word “dishonest” to describe a Court decision, and implying a collusive connection between the second applicant and the Courts, the sixth respondent must have undermined public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.

“In so undermining the authority of the judiciary, they undermine the rule of law.

“Accordingly, we find the sixth respondent to have been in contempt of court in making those statements.”

The Judges pointed out that Tuilaepa has been regarded by many as a respected and longstanding father of the nation. When Samoa entered a period of political turmoil it was reasonable for its people to look to him as a role model.

The Constitution gave the Supreme Court the job of interpreting and applying the laws of Samoa.35 The Courts decided that FAST had won the election.

That was the moment for the first respondent to show true leadership. “Instead of accepting and following the Courts’ decisions, the first respondent embarked on a sustained campaign to vilify its Judges. For a time the campaign appeared to be successful.

“For several anxious months, Samoa’s proud history of stability was under threat. Even now the conflicts linger.

“We accept the evidence before us that there has been a lasting decline in respect for the law and the Courts in some quarters. That is the sorry legacy left by a formerly great leader.” 

In other circumstances, the first respondent’s actions might have called for imprisonment. Fortunately, three considerations allow us to avoid that result.

“First, no-one could question the first respondent’s long and distinguished service to Samoa. He is entitled to credit for that. It was only for a short period that he fell from grace.

Secondly, he has expressed regret for his conduct, unreservedly withdrawn the shameful things he said, apologised, and accepted that maintenance of public confidence in the judiciary and the Courts of Samoa is fundamental.

Thirdly there is the Harmony Agreement,” the ruling stated.

Among other matters, the ruling says the agreement was in fact no more than a proposal that was never adopted by the Court.

“However we have attached great significance to the views expressed in it by the current Prime Minister and the FAST party.

“They feel strongly that it is time for Samoa to put these election arguments behind them.  “That would allow Samoa to unite in addressing greater challenges that lie ahead such as Covid and climate change.

“To that end they were prepared to discontinue the contempt proceedings altogether. If we had accepted the discontinuance it would have left the respondents without penalty.

“Given that the respondents were the ones at risk in the proceedings, they were hardly about to disagree.

“But the Prime Minister and her party had nothing personal or political to gain by discontinuing. We accept that as the Government elected by the people of Samoa, they know what is best for the country. Although it is important to publicly record and condemn these contempts of court, we see no need to go further.”

The court ruled the precedent now stands.

“It should now be plain how the Court would deal with repetitions. On this occasion, penalties would simply inflame disruptions and conflicts that have done enough harm already.

“The current Prime Minister and FAST party are anxious to put them to bed. It is not our place to disagree.

“We find the first, fifth and sixth respondents guilty of contempt of court. In the very special circumstances, we impose no penalty. We find the other respondents not guilty of contempt of court.”

Click on the link below for the full judgment.

220323 JUDGMENT FAST etc v TUILEPA etc_Misc 142-21 [51]