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Contempt of Court allegations against former PM and lawyer

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Speaker Seoule Simeon, By Hilaire Bule

The legal counsel of the Speaker of Parliament, Sakiusa Kalsakau, filed an urgent application in the Supreme Court yesterday for alleged contempt of court against the former Prime Minister (PM), Sato Kilman, and his legal counsel, Justin Ngwele.

Mr. Kalsakau informed the Daily Post yesterday afternoon that Mr. Kilman, through Mr. Ngwele, wrote a letter to the Speaker of Parliament, Seoule Simeon, which he considered a misrepresentation of the court order and therefore constituting contempt.

“Mr. Justin Ngwele and/or Mr. Sato Kilman be punished for contempt of court. Such other orders deemed necessary and just,” Mr. Sakiusa stated.

He alleged that Mr. Ngwele’s letter to Mr. Simeon, which stated, “should you continue with the convocation of parliament pursuant to the request referred to above, it is our strong view that you will be in breach of court order and potentially liable for contempt of court,” misrepresented the court order.

Speaker Simeon revealed to the parliament yesterday afternoon that he had received the letter from Mr. Kilman’s legal counsel, advising him not to proceed with the parliamentary session after the morning adjournment. However, he had also received advice from Mr. Kalsakau to proceed with the parliamentary agenda, including the debate on the motion against Mr. Kilman.

In Mr. Ngwele’s letter to the Speaker, he stated, “We represent Meltek Sato Kilman Livtunvanu, the (then) Prime Minister of Vanuatu. We are aware that parliament has purported to be convened today pursuant to the request of the Speaker dated 25 September 2023, signed by 26 Members of Parliament to debate a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister.”

He continued by highlighting the constitutional requirement that such a request must be made by a majority of the Members of Parliament (MPs), which, in this case, would require the support of 27 out of 52 MPs. Mr. Ngwele argued that the request was made under the assumption that Bruno Leingkone Tau’s seat was vacant, and with only 51 MPs at the time, the request was invalid.

Mr. Ngwele further mentioned that Mr. Leingkone had sought the court’s intervention regarding the announcement of his seat vacancy, and an appeal court had granted a stay order on Thursday, ensuring that Mr. Leingkone’s seat should not be considered vacant until the appeal’s determination. Therefore, the request for the parliamentary session was unconstitutional.

He also reminded the Speaker of his obligation to comply with Parliament Standing Orders, particularly Standing Order 10(5), which prevents the Speaker from voting on a motion except in the event of a tie. Mr. Ngwele requested the Speaker’s undertaking to adjourn the consideration of the motion of no confidence until the appeal was resolved.

The Speaker was cautioned that any breach of the Appeal Court’s order would be regarded as contempt, both by the Speaker and any person disregarding the order.

During the parliamentary session yesterday afternoon, the then Leader of Government Business, Xavier Iauko, argued that the session could not be convened because only 26 MPs had requested the 5th Extraordinary session, falling short of the required 27 signatures.

Mr. Simeon countered that at the time of the request on September 25th, there were only 51 MPs due to Mr. Leingkone’s vacant seat, and the Appeal Court had ruled that the absolute majority required was 26 votes. He ruled that parliament should proceed with its business.

The Speaker’s ruling led to protests from Mr. Kilman’s side, concluding in their exit from the parliamentary chambers.

Source: VDP

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