No Constitutional Infringement: Vanuatu Chief Justice Lunabek

The Vanuatu Supreme Court has dismissed an urgent constitutional application from the 27 signatories of the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Bob Loughman, the Daily Post reports.

Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek said that there were two issues which had to be determined by the court.

The first issue was the advice by the Council of Ministers’ (COM) to Vanuatu President, Nikenike Vurobaravu to dissolve parliament, and whether the president’s decision was invalid and unconstitutional.

The second issue was, if it was unconstitutional, what was the effect of that invalidity on the president’s decision.

Chief Justice Lunabek said the court only considered whether the rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution have been lawfully and properly exercised, and whether the law as created by parliament has been given effect.

The applicants made the following submissions before the court:

  • That the COM was not competent to advise the president to dissolve the parliament and that the advice of the COM was a fundamental conflict of interest contrary to the Constitution, as PM Loughman stood to benefit from the dissolution because it stopped the applicants from moving and voting on the motion.
  • The applicants submitted that this rendered the decision by the president to dissolve the parliament invalid and unconstitutional.

The respondents made the following submissions before the court:

  • The respondents submitted that based on the facts, there was no substantive evidence that would support the allegation of conflict of interest on the part of PM Loughman.
  • The respondents submitted that the proposition of the applicants was flawed because the provision to dissolve the parliament is a collective decision of the COM.
  • The respondents submitted that once that decision was made, PM Loughman had no control in the act of dissolving parliament which was a discretionary power vested on the president alone.

The Vanuatu Supreme Court determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove a conflict of interest. Most of the evidence was in relation to the conduct of each Member of Parliament or groups of the members of parliament at the relevant time.

The Vanuatu Supreme Court agreed and accepted the submissions of the respondents in the exercise of their rights by the COM under Article 28(3) of the Constitution to advise the president to dissolve the parliament, which was made in accordance with the Constitution.

“In this present case, there were no constitutional infringements on the part of the COM when it resolved and advised the president to dissolve parliament. Equally, there was no constitutional infringement on the part of the president of the Republic when he proceeds to dissolve the parliament pursuant to Article 28(3) of the constitution. The court answers the two issues as followed: issue 1, No. There was insufficient evidence to support the unlawfulness and unconstitutionality of the advice of the COM to the president dated 14 August to dissolve parliament and issue 2, not required to answer as the answer of the issue 1 is No,” the Chief Justice said in his final judgment Friday.

The Government’s Public Relations officer, Fred Vurobaravu said the government welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court through the Chief Justice to uphold the rights provided by the Constitution.

“The Government believes that the best option forward is to reset through the snap elections,” he said.

Vanuatu is scheduled for a snap election on October 13, 2022.