Samoa Court rules suspended Opposition MPs return to Parliament

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Samoa Supreme Court has ruled that there is no barrier or obstacle to stop the Opposition leader, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and Lealailepule Rimoni Aiafi from resuming their duties as Members of Parliament.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling set aside Parliament’s decision to suspend the MPs indefinitely.

The Court noted that Parliament has approved the Committee’s report with respect to liability and penalty.

“We consider the Court has jurisdiction to scrutinise all these intramural 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 Court also noted 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.”

The Court heard arguments 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.”

“We accordingly declare that the part of the Assembly’s motion which purports to suspend the Applicants is void as at the date of the declaration in this judgment. It may be that the Assembly 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 Court noted that this is another significant public interest case, and costs are to lie where they fall.

Tuilaepa and Lealailepule were suspended indefinitely by Parliament in May 2022 based on the Special Parliamentary Ethics and Privileges Committee report which found them in contempt of Parliament.

The MPs then took legal action against the suspension which the Court ruled in their favour.

The ruling was delivered by Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren who was one of the presiding judges over the hearing with Chief Justice Satiu Simativa Perese and Senior Judge Vui Clarence Nelson.

The parties to the case were Parliament Speaker, Papali’i Li’o Ta’eu Masipa’u as Respondent,

Tuilaepa and Lealailepule as Applicants, and the Samoa Law Society as Amicus Curiae.

SOURCE: TALAMUA ONLINE/PACNEWS