Court dismisses Keleʻa newspaper’s application to transfer defamatory civil proceeding to Supreme Court

Tonga’s Supreme Court has dismissed an application by the publisher of Kele’a newspaper, Lautala Tapueluelu and its former editor, Mateni Tapueluelu, to transfer a civil proceeding for defamation from the Magistrates’ Court to the Supreme Court.

Lord Chief Justice Owen G. Paulsen said the argument was without merit.

He ordered that the Magistrate’s Court had to “allocate a hearing date as soon as is reasonably possible.”

Mr Justice Paulsen said the argument by the applicants that “the case can be more effectively dealt with in the Supreme Court is not correct.”

The application was opposed by the respondent.

The case the Tapueluelus were trying to transfer was a defamation case brought to the Magistrate’s court by Mr. Rizvi Jurangpathy, the Chief Executive Officer of Tonga Telecommunications Corporation (TCC).

The case was raised in Tonga’s Legislative Assembly in 2015 and Mateni e-mailed letters about the issue to Cabinet ministers. Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who founded Kele’a, wrote to the plaintiff demanding he go on paid leave or resign while an investigation was conducted.

Jurangpathy sought damages in the Magistrate Court “for defamation arising out of an article published in the Kele’a Newspaper on 29 June 2015.”

The case is one of several cases brought against the paper for libel which have resulted in court imposed fines.

The latest was a defamation case brought against the Tapueluelus and the newspaper by Tonga’s  former Minister of Law William Clive Edwards.

Mr Tapueluelu  was convicted and lost his parliamentary seat in December 2015 because he failed to pay his fine to Mr Edwards.

Mateni was MP for Tongatapu No. 4 when the article against Jurangpathy was published by the newspaper.

The Magistrate’s Court was told Tongatapu No. 4 constituent Lomano Fifita was dismissed from his position with TCC.

Fifita complained to Mateni about his dismissal and the MP raised it in Parliament.

According to a statement of claim submitted to the Magistrate’s Court “the article in the Kele’a was defamatory of Mr. Jurangpathy”.

The claim said the article insinuated that Jurangpathy “had wrongfully dismissed employees of TCC without due process, was corrupt, had abused his position as CEO of TCC in  various  respects,  was  misusing  company  funds,  that he was a sexual predator and  had illegally spied on directors and employees of TCC.”

The original article quoted Jurangpathy as denying all of its allegations.

In their statement of defence the Tapueluelus denied “that the article was defamatory of Mr. Jurangpathy and plead the defences of truth and qualified privilege under section  10  of the  Defamation Act  (Cap 14.06).”

Mateni said in  his affidavit that the long standing mission of Kele’a was to fight for “fair distribution of opportunities of life and has embodied in the push for democratic structure where people can partake  in decision making.”

Arguments

The Tapueluelus argued that the Supreme Court had the power to transfer proceedings from the Magistrates’ Court to the Supreme Court.

Their legal counsel, ‘Ofa Pouono, argued that the case would be  better heard in the Supreme Court because the relevant documents were all in English.

He said hearing the case at the Magistrate’s Court would require documents to be translated into Tongan.

Mr. Pouono also submitted that the hearing in the Magistrates’ Court was likely to take a week and-a-half to hear, but Mr Paulsen said he did not provide any evidence for this.

Mr Tapueluelu also argued the case was complex and involved many technical  and financial  documents from a public company.”

Mr Justice Paulsen rejected this argument.

“This case does not raise any issues which are unique or technical,” he said.

“It also raises no issues which I consider would be unsuitable for resolution by the Magistrates’ Court. That Court regularly deals with claims  in defamation as difficult as this one”.

Mr Paulsen said the plaintiff’s argument showed the case was ready for trial in the Magistrates’ Court.

Although a previous case had been transferred to the Supreme Court,  Mr Justice Paulsen agreed with the argument put forward by the respondent’s legal counsel William Clive Edwards “that this case has none of the special factors  which  lead the  Court of Appeal  to order a transfer in that  case.”

He said the Tapueluelus’ application had “no merit” and that the Magistrates’ Court was entitled to the same respect as any other  Court.

The Lord Chief Justice said he was concerned at the fact the Tapueluelus only lodged their application “at the last moment” before the trial start.

He said the “only inference can be that they are pursued for tactical advantage.”

The  main points

  • Tonga’s Supreme Court has dismissed an application by the publisher of Kele’a newspaper, Lautala Tapueluelu and its former editor, Mateni Tapueluelu, to transfer a civil proceeding for defamation from the Magistrates’ Court to the Supreme Court.
  • Lord Chief Justice Owen G. Paulsen said the argument was without merit.
  • He ordered that the Magistrate’s Court had to “allocate a hearing date as soon as is reasonably possible.”
  • The case the Tapueluelus were trying to transfer was a defamation case brought to the Magistrate’s court by Rizvi Jurangpathy, the Chief Executive Officer of Tonga Telecommunications Corporation (TCC).

For more information

Court says MP Tapueluelu’s election unlawful (Kaniva News)

Sometimes when a business is growing, it needs a little help.

Right now Kaniva News provides a free, politically independent, bilingual news service for readers around the world that is absolutely unique. We are the largest New Zealand-based Tongan news service, and our stories reach Tongans  wherever they are round the world. But as we grow, there are increased demands on Kaniva News for translation into Tongan on our social media accounts and for the costs associated with expansion. We believe it is important for Tongans to have their own voice and for Tongans to preserve their language, customs and heritage. That is something to which we are strongly committed. That’s why we are asking you to consider sponsoring our work and helping to preserve a uniquely Tongan point of view for our readers and listeners.

Latest news

Related news