Supreme Court declares the indefinite suspension of Tuilaepa, Leala is “void”


The Supreme Court has declared that the part of the Assembly’s motion which purports to suspend the Applicants Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi and Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi “is void as at the date of the declaration in this judgment.” 

This was the decision rendered today by Chief Justice, his Honours Satiu Simativa Perese, Senior Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren in a civil claim filed by Members of the HRPP, Tuilaepa and Leala over their indefinite suspension by the Speaker of the House. 

The suspension in May this year against the HRPP leader Tuilaepa and Secretary Leala came after they were found to be in violation of standing orders.

This is a result of a formal complaint by Deputy Prime Minister Tuala Iosefo Ponifasio lodged against the two senior MPs claiming they had brought Parliament into disrepute after their conviction by the Supreme Court on contempt of court charges.

According to the court ruling, Parliament “may wish to revisit the penalty aspect, consistently with the Constitution, but that is entirely a matter for that body. 

However, as at the date of this decision, there is no lawful impediment in the way of the Applicants resuming their duties as members.” 

The decision says the Assembly resolved to approve the Committee’s report with respect to liability and penalty. 

“We consider the Court has jurisdicition to scrutinise all these intramural 32 decisions of the Assembly pursuant to its express duty under the Constitution to declare “any existing law…which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.” 

“The relevant law, in this case, concerns Parliament’s disciplinary rules arising under the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privileges Ordinance 1960, Parliament’s Standing Orders, and the customs of the Assembly, and their application. 

“We find these disciplinary rules and practice do not give the persons who are the subject of adverse recommendations by the Privileges and Ethics Committee, the opportunity to be heard as to penalty before the Assembly. 

“This is a failure which breaches a fundamental plank of the rules of fairness that are secured in Article 9(1) of the Constitution – the right to be heard. 

“The Assembly’s resolution as to the Applicants’ liability for the contempt of Parliament, was not itself directly challenged, and so there is no reason for this Court to consider much less disturb that finding. “There was a strongly run argument that the suspension was indeterminate. 

“We hold the suspensions are not indeterminate and do not engage the principles and rights in Article 44 of the Constitution. 

“On the facts, we consider that even had we found the suspension to have been indeterminate and therefore in breach of Article 44, this did not necessarily mean that liability was not properly made out.  

“However, we consider the treatment of both of the Applicants rights to natural justice with respect to penalty were inconsistent with their rights preserved under Article 9(1) of the Constitution.” 

Furthermore, the decision says the April 2021 General Election in Samoa produced a result few if any could have confidently predicted. 

“History has now recorded the regrettably many ugly scenes and events that followed. Harsh words were spoken, which included unfounded accusations and unprecedented attacks directed by the First and Second Applicant members of the Assembly of Samoa and their supporters at the Judiciary. 

“These attacks became the subject of contempt of Court proceedings in the Supreme Court, alleging amongst other things that the statements scandalised the Court and the members of the Judiciary, and thereby undermined the rule of Law in Samoa.

“With respect to the mana of Parliament and its members, the Executive Government did not move to reclaim the dignity of the Assembly until 28 April 2022, many months after the offensive statements were made.” 

The decision says this is when the Deputy Prime Minister filed a complaint alleging breach of Parliamentary Privilege with the Speaker. 

Tuilaepa and Lealailepule remain suspended as at the date of this Judgment; they have now come to the Court for a remedy.

“This case concerns the legitimacy of the suspension and whether the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to interfere with the Assembly’s decision. 

“These issues raise the question of the relationship between the Court and the Assembly and the separation of powers between the Legislative and Judicial branches of the State. It is clearly a matter of sensitivity and importance.”