Court Hears Apologies from HRPP Members, a Senior Lawyer and Broadcaster for Statements that Undermined Public Confidence in Courts and Judges
The Contempt of Court motion filed by the Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) political party against eight respondents was heard in the Supreme Court on Monday morning before an all-overseas based bench, who have reserved their decision after hearing apologies from five of the eight respondents through their legal counsels.
There were initially four respondents to the motion filed in May 2021 amidst the peak of Samoa’s political crisis, alleging members of the Human Rights Protection Party had continuously scandalised and undermined the authority of the Court – through specific wording and phrases used during HRPP live updates and TV 1 Good Morning Samoa programs that publicised strong views against decisions handed down by Samoa’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.
In the midst of Samoa’s 2021 political crisis, HRPP’s media campaign had openly discussed the party’s position; that the Samoa Judiciary had dismantled and destroyed the Constitution of Samoa, alleging the Courts had colluded with FAST to displace the HRPP-led Government.
Former Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr Sailele Malielegaoi, former AG Savalenoa Mareva Betha-Annandale, former Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Toleafoa Apulu Fa’afisi and former Clerk of the House Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei were the first four respondents, for their role in Parliament not convening on the 24th of May as directed by the Supreme Court in a decision handed down Sunday 23rd May, carried out on a pickwick basis.
However as the crisis continued, four additional respondents were added including HRPP’s deputy leader Hon Lauofo Fonotoe Nuafesili Pierre Lauofo, HRPP party secretary Hon Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi, senior lawyer Maiava Visekota Peteru and TV1 Samoa broadcaster Taulealeausumai Sioeli Alofaifo.
Courts Says Charges are Serious
Currently in New Zealand for medical checks, opposition leader Tuilaepa Sailele was able to attend proceedings via video link represented by NZ based Counsel David Gilbertson.
Legal submissions by lawyers of all parties were heard before Justice Robert Fisher and Justice Raynor Asher, who also participated via video link.
With the political crisis now seemingly in the distant past and the FAST party now settled into their role as Samoa’s new government administration, Tuilaepa’s lawyer referred to a memo jointly signed by his client and Prime Minister Hon Fiame Naomi Mataafa, noting the nation had moved forward and FAST, as applicants, wished to withdraw.
The Supreme Court, however, considered the charges as serious. Notwithstanding the applicants wanting to withdraw, the Supreme Court would consider the nature of the various contemptuous statements and impacts on the Court.
Respondants Apologise, Withdraw and Retract Statements
All three HRPP MPs including its leader, deputy leader and party secretary apologised to the Court and withdrew their public statements. Lawyer Maiava Visekota and TV presenter Taulealeausumai Sioeli took the same stance.
David Gilbertson presented a written statement by Samoa’s former Prime Minister acknowledging the statements made. Gilbertson submitted, Tuilaepa accepts the Court of Samoa as the fundamental principle of law and unreservedly withdraws the statements made, which he regrets. Through his Counsel, Tuilaepa apologised to the Court and its judges for making the statements and for any loss of confidence in the Courts these statements may have caused.
Aumua Ming Leung Wai represented four of the respondents – Lauofo Pierre, Lealailepule Rimoni, Maiava Visekota and Taulealeausumai Sioeli.
Aumua said his clients acknowledged making statements that could have undermined confidence in the Court and Judges of Samoa. He offered apologies for all four and submitted his clients – two senior Members of Parliament, a senior lawyer and a long serving broadcaster, regretted the public statements.
“Each has acknowledged making statements that could have undermined confidence in the Court and Judges of Samoa.. they unreservedly withdraw those statements and apologise to the Court and judges of Samoa.”
The Court also heard submissions from FAST Counsels Mr Ben Keith and Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu who both participated via video link with Matafeo George Latu present in Court.
Taulapapa linked statements made by the respondents to the type of contempt – scandlising the court and obstruction of the Courts various decisions in the months following the April general elections. Taulapapa also spoke to the overall impact behaviours demonstrated by the Respondents during that time.
Outside Court Counsel for FAST Matafeo George Latu said all the legal submissions were now before the Court to make their decision, expected to be handed down in two weeks.
About Contempt of Court
In Samoa Contempt of Court is not in an Act of Parliament and so the rules are drawn from Common Law or the decisions of Courts in the UK, Australia and NZ.
There are three main types:
Scandalizing the Court that includes behaviour that undermines the integrity of the Court such as abuse of Judges and suggesting they are bias, dishonest or incompetent.
Willful Disobedience of Court Orders for acting in breach of the Orders made by the Court.
Contempt in the Face of the Court, where a witness or public does something whilst the court is in session such as swear or shout at the judges.