The Supreme Court has ordered Speaker of Parliament, MP Simeon Seule, to pay a sum of Vt595, 000 to Ms Fredline Tanarango for damages following an assault on December 17, 2016.
Mrs Tanarango, the claimant in civil case No. 18/362 SC/CIVL, filed proceedings against Mr Seule, who was the Minister of Sports at the time of the incident.
According to Tanarango, in the early hours of December 17, at Hotel Santo, MP Seule damaged her mobile phone, took her lady's bag and threw it at her, causing its contents to fall off.
The claimant also said Seule punched her back, face and neck and kicked her back causing her to fall to the floor as well as pulled her hair and wanted to push her out of her hotel room.
Presiding Judge in this case, Justice Oliver. A. Saksak admitted the delay in formulating judgment to this case. He said this is due to the delays in the claimant filing her amended submissions on June 17, 2019, and the defendant as late as September 17, 2019.
He mentioned in his discussions that the evidence of the assault on her by the defendant is a stand alone evidence, adding that to him, the claimant was a credible witness.
Joel Nilwo, who was a defense witness "was not a credible witness for the defendant." According to the Judge, Nilwo "was the only witness who saw the assault but was reluctant to tell the truth. He however told the truth to the claimant, her husband and the claimant's brother in a meeting at Blandiere, "but then was not prepared to admit the truth in Court in his oral evidence under cross-examination".
Justice Saksak stated, "The defendant said the grabbing was only a joke when at the same time, he said he was frustrated. This was not consistent behaviour."
The Judge is satisfied on the evidence that MP Seule had assaulted the claimant, but the assault amounted only to battery as no permanent harm or injury was caused to the body of the claimant.
"Therefore, I find she only suffered injury to her feelings which was only of a temporary nature. I am therefore of the firm view the claimant is entitled to some damages."
Judge Saksak however dismissed the complainant's claims in relation to incidents of December 22 and 23 2016, and January 9 2017 as there was not enough evidence to support the complaints.
Her claims on punitive and exemplary damages were also dismissed. Special damages claims and general damages were also awarded to the victim, but at a reduced amount.
Meanwhile, the Opposition have expressed concerns why the Speaker of Parliament who is implicated in this case has continued to occupy this important position despite the Supreme Court judgement, pointing out that at times in the absence of the Head of State, the Speaker is the Acting President of the Republic of Vanuatu.
“MP Seule is defined as a leader as defined under the Leadership Code and is obliged to adhere to the strict guidelines as set out in that particular law and must conduct himself as a leader,” the Opposition stated.
“He must do the honorable thing and resign, as he is answerable to the people and citizens of this country and to continue to occupy such a position as the Speaker's Position, undermines the integrity of such institutions to whom people have entrusted leaders, such as him to be the custodian of such institutions."
The Opposition also requests that responsible authorities expedite the Criminal Case resulting from the same incident as against MP Seule so as to provide certainty and clarity as to the status of MP Seule for Vanuatu citizens.
Speaker Seule is expected to appeal the civil case and but his lawyer has advised that he will not step down unless the court finds him guilty of the criminal charges filed against him.