Kate Wiseman co-author
In April 2021, following the general election, two people claimed to be Samoa’s Prime Minister: Tuila'epa Sailele Malielegaoi (then-incumbent PM), leader of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), and Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, leader of the new Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi Party (FAST).
The courts were asked to help break the tie, however Tuila’epa fought back against court orders allowing Parliament to sit with FAST as leaders.
On Monday 24th May 2021, the day when the newly elected MPs were to be sworn in by court order (and the last day that could happen under Samoa's constitution which requires that the first sitting of parliament be within 45 days of the general election), Tuila’epa had the doors of Parliament locked.
FAST decided to hold its own swearing-in ceremony under the marquee tent on Parliament grounds. Tuila'epa questioned the new party’s mental stability, declaring that: "None of what they did is legitimate. The Devil has won and taken over them.”
As a result of actions taken by Tuile’epa and others, proceedings for contempt of court were brought against them. Hon Robert Fisher QC of Bankside Chambers sat with Hon Raynor Asher QC on this pivotal case.
On 23 March 2022, the Supreme Court of Samoa issued its judgement, holding that Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi and others had “damaged the fabric of Samoa” committing the “gravest possible examples of contempt of court.”
The Court summarised its findings as follows:
“This case is about the rule of law in Samoa. The rule of law means that all are subject to the law; that no-one is above the law; and that interpretation and application of the law is left to the Courts. Contempt of court is an important aspect of the rule of law.
A person is guilty of contempt of court if they act in a way that is calculated to undermine public confidence in the Courts. To undermine confidence in the Courts is to undermine the rule of law.
The Samoan general election of 9 April 2021 was followed by a period of political turmoil. The Courts gave a series of decisions clarifying the legal position. The legal position was that the current Prime Minister and the FAST party had won the election.
The former Prime Minister and HRRP could not accept that. They publicly denigrated the Judges and declined to follow their decisions. By rejecting the Judges, they invited legal anarchy. Many others accepted the invitation. It was a troubling time for Samoa. The root of the problem was rejection of judicial decisions.
We have found that some of the respondents were guilty of the gravest possible examples of contempt of court. The contempts were committed repeatedly over a sustained period. They damaged the fabric of Samoa.”
A copy of the Samoan Supreme Court 23 March 2022 decision in Fa’atuatua i le Atua ua Tasi (FAST) v Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi is provided under Resources.