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The Revolt of the Samoans

Concerning "Contempt of Court"

page 14

Concerning "Contempt of Court"

In July last, as I have written, the Native chiefs Fuataga and Fagaloa were before the High Court of Samoa. Other chiefs were dealt with about the same time. The case against Fuataga and Fagaloa had been adjourned for a fortnight. The charge was disobedience of a banishment order; and the Administrator in an official communication described the adjournment as "unfortunate." Counsel for the defendants, after sentence had been delivered, lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court of New Zealand, but the Judge at Samoa refused a stay of execution of sentence pending the appeal. The Administrator wrote in his official capacity to the Department: "In order to further delay matters, the lawyer defending the cases of Fuataga and Fagaloa has applied for an appeal to the Supreme Court of New Zealand, but the Judge, fortunately, did not allow this to interfere with the execution of the sentence." He further wrote: "This appeal is really only a scheme on the part of a lawyer (Mr. Slipper), who is a new arrival here and does not understand Native problems, but apparently wants to curry favour with the Natives. His attitude is helping the agitation, for he knows that such an appeal will not be upheld, but that the delay will give the Natives confidence in him." There is surely something altogether unprecedented in a Governor expressing himself in such terms regarding the conduct of Court cases which are sub judice. I am afraid that if any public man in New Zealand should use similar language with respect to any case that was before the Supreme Court he soon would find himself called upon to answer a charge of contempt of court. One could not imagine any Governor-General of New Zealand similarly criticising the work of the court. Even if there were no question of contempt involved, to most people it would appear to amount to the worst of bad taste for a Governor to be found jubilating because a Judge, having given certain defendants sentenced on a political charge the right to appeal, refuses a stay of execution of sentence pending the hearing of the appeal. But if it is not contempt of court to declare that the Supreme Court will dismiss an appeal set down for hearing before it, the law defining contempt would appear not yet to have been written. Of course, until the Royal Commission's Report is made available to members of Parliament, neither I nor any other member will be in a position to know what view the Commissioners have taken of this unprecedented incident. I can't help feeling that the Administrator's comments on these cases reflects the military mind and is further evidence of General Richardson's temperamental unfitness for the position of Governor of Western Samoa.