Former Samoa Prime Minister apologises in contempt of court case
Former Samoan Prime Minister and Leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and deputy leader Lauofo Fonotoe Pierre Lauofo have apologised to the Court through submissions presented by their lawyers in court this week.
Tuilaepa and Fonotoe and six others were facing charges brought by the FAST Party of contempt of court (breach of orders) and scandalising the Court.
Other defendants include former Speaker Toleafoa Leaupepe Faafisi; lawyer Maiava Visekota Peteru; HRPP Secretary Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi (MP); former Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale; former Clerk of the Legislative Assembly Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei and Tologataua Sioeli Alofaifo.
The charges stem from the breach of the Supreme Court orders in May 2021 for Parliament to convene on 24 May. On that day parliament was locked, forcing the FAST Party to have its swearing in under a tent outside parliament.
Media interviews with the HRPP Leader, Deputy Leader, Party Secretary and lawyer Maiava Peteru in the months that followed during the political turmoil, resulted in the filing of charges for scandalising the court.
In court, Tuilaepa’s lawyer David Gilbertson informed the Court of his client’s signed statement dated 24 February 2022.
In that statement, Tuilaepa referred to his Samoan cultural values and Christian principles, and said that it was time for Samoa to move forward from its recent path of political turmoil and uncertainty.
Gilbertson said Tuilaepa acknowledged making the statements that were already in the court proceedings Monday.
“He regret making the statements and wish to withdraw them and apologise to the Court,” said Gilbert.
Given the circumstances of Tuilaepa’s latest statement, Gilbert submitted that no penalty shall be imposed on his client.
On the charge of breach of orders, Gilbert said he was surprised by the submission presented by the Faatuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi –FAST party and Fiame Naomi Mataafa counsel Benjamin Keith who continued to argue the case, given that an agreement was already reached between FAST and HRPP to discontinue the matter.
The parties tried to reach a settlement by agreeing to apologise and withdraw their statements of contempt but the Court considered the seriousness of the offence.
Gilbert pointed out that on 03 February 2022 an agreement was reached between the second applicant for FAST and HRPP to discontinue the contempt of court proceedings and was surprised to hear Keith raising points about the contempt charge.
Lead presiding judge, Robert Lloyd Fisher QC said that a proposed agreement to discontinue was submitted to the Court but no further action was taken upon it.
He then asked Gilbert to provide their argument through a submission, which counsel obliged.
The other four respondents Lauofo, Maiava, Lealailepule and Tologataua also presented apologies in submissions through their lawyer Peter Lithgow.
“Each has acknowledged making statements that could have undermined confidence in the Court and Judges of Samoa and each of them unreservedly withdraws those statements and each has apologised to the Court and judges of Samoa,” said Lithgow.
He said in the current circumstances, where a new Government has been installed and at a time where Samoa must face many challenges, it is appropriate that past rancour be cast aside.
Counsel also pointed out that the respondents acknowledge the importance of the rule of law.
The issue or civil and criminal contempt was raised when counsel for Tuilaepa pointed out that parties to a matter can decide whether to discontinue the matter or not.
Justice Fisher did not have an answer to the civil contempt, but Robert said that the law is clear that the contempt of court proceedings is a singular process which deals with the needs of what had happened, and can adopt a civil proceeding, but distinction is made between criminal and civil contempt.
Robert said it’s never been disputed that the parties in a case of contempt need the consent of the Court to discontinue or not, as it is a normal practice in some cases, however, if the Court identifies a public interest component that makes it unacceptable, then that is a different matter.
The respondents prepared statements in the view that the matter was to be discontinued hence not disputing the facts and the reasons why no evidence was presented at the hearing.
Robert Lithgow who represented the Office of the Attorney General, appeared as an Intervener.
He called it “hard disrupted behaviour to delay the process.”
He also pointed out the specific task of the Judiciary and the wide range of decisions they made since the general election of April 2021, which were intensively debated and criticised publicly.
One such ruling was for the swearing in of all FAST MPs on 24 May 2021 under a tent after orders were given to lock the Parliament building doors.
The judges were never involved in such debates but their integrity and authority were undermined by the actions of the respondents.
The hearing was conducted via Zoom with Tuilaepa zooming in from New Zealand and Taulapapa from quarantine in Apia.
The court’s decision is reserved.