Mr Joe Natuman. Photo: File

Former Prime Minister Joe Natuman is not eligible to contest in the Tanna Constituency under the Vanua’aku Pati ticket in the 2020 General Election.

Yesterday afternoon Supreme Court Judge, Oliver Saksak handed down the decision of the judicial review claim by Mr Natuman, seeking relief for Court to quash the Electoral Commission’s decision of March 3, 2020 and have Natuman’s name included in the list of candidates for Tanna Constituency qualified to contest the General Election on March 19, 2020.

In his decision, Justice Saksak stated that he declined to hear the judicial review claim and struck out the claim.

Justice Saksak stated that Natuman, who is the claimant in the case, has not satisfied the Court that he has met the test in Rule 17.8 (3) (a) and (d) which are conjunctive tests.

Rule 17.8 (3) states “The judge will not hear the claim unless he or she is satisfied that:

(a) the claimant has an arguable case and (d) there is no other remedy that resolves the matter fully and directly.”

Saksak also stated that the claimant’s remedy does not lie in a judicial review claim, but lies within section 27 (2) of the Act.

The Judge said, “The only real issue is whether the claimant has an arguable case?

“On February 28, 2020, when the claimant lodged his declaration for candidature, he did so knowingly that he had and still has a suspended term of sentence which has not ended.

“He did so knowing that he was ineligible but did so anyway.

“And the only decision the claimant could reasonably expect to get from the defendant, was what he got. So, does that make his case arguable? The answer in my view is, “No”.

“The only time the claimant would have any arguable case was to wait until his sentence ended on March 16, 2020 and apply under section 27 (2) of the Act and that application refused by the defendant, then the claimant would and could have an arguable case. But, that is not the case,” Justice Saksak stated.

On January 28, 2020, Natuman lodged his application to be declared as a candidate for the March 19, 2020 General Election.

The Electoral Commission wrote a letter advising him that he was disqualified for contesting in the General Elections. Electoral Commission’s decision was made pursuant to section 24 (1) (b) of the Representation of the People’s Act [CAP 146].

Natuman’s name was not approved after the final declaration of all eligible candidates were declared on March 6, 2020.

On that same date, the former Tanna MP filed the urgent judicial review claim.

Mr Nigel Morrison who represented Natuman, explained that what the claimant was asking the Court to do was to interpret the word “stand” in section 24 (1) of the Act and the question whether it includes the declaration date or the polling day.

Mr. Morrison submitted that the Tests in Rule 17.8 were met and that the matter should proceed to a full hearing.

He relied on the case of Jackleen v Electoral Commission [2002] VUSC 22 to argue that section 26 (4) of the Act is unconstitutional and that it cannot be relied on by the defendant as a defence.

But Defence counsel, Silas Hakwa whose submissions were upheld by the Judge argued that the claimant has no arguable case to satisfy the first test in Rule 17.8 (3) (a).

Hakwa further argued first that there was no lawful application by the claimant to stand as a candidate because section 24 (1) (b) was not met by the claimant.

He submitted the only decision the defendant could make on March 3 2020 was to reject the application on the basis it being invalid.

Mr. Hakwa stated that on March 3, 2020, the defendant has no obligation to decide anything, and argued further the claimant could have waited until after March 16, 2020, when his sentence would end and only then, could he lawfully apply.

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