Supreme Court allows breach of rights lawsuit

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu ,

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SUPREME COURT JUDGE: Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala.

SUPREME COURT JUDGE: Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala.

The Supreme Court has allowed a lawsuit to proceed in a case involving a 17-year-old who was questioned and strip-searched by the Police without a consenting adult.

The lawsuit has been filed by Epenesa Meyer, the mother of the alleged victim, against the Ministry of Police.

The decision to allow the lawsuit was made by Supreme Court Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala, last Friday. The dispute centres around an alleged incident that happened in May 2017.

The 17-year-old was working for a business in town as a Shop Assistant when money went missing.

 “Two days later, on 3 May 2017, she was called upstairs by one of the owners to ask about some money which went missing the day before,” the Court was told. 

“Police officers arrived not long after and started questioning her. They took her to the Police station for further questioning. When they arrived at the Police station, the first plaintiff asked the Police if she could call her mother. She was not allowed to.” 

The Court heard she was taken into a room where she was questioned by a Police Officer.

“Then she was taken into another room where she was strip searched by a female Police officer. Nothing was found on her. At 7pm, the Police contacted the second defendant who is the mother of the first defendant.” 

“The second defendant informed the Police that the first defendant suffers from a medical condition known as depressive disorder for which she was taking medication.” 

 “At 8pm, both defendants were taken home and the Police searched their home. Nothing was found. The first defendant was detained for about six hours without being read her constitutional rights.”

The Meyers are represented by lawyer, Mauga Precious Chang. They are suing the Police for breach of the rights of the child; breach of right to liberty; misfeasance in public office; negligence and breach of statutory duty. 

The Police are being represented by the Attorney General’s Office who have moved to strike out the lawsuit. They argued that the claims in its entirety are frivolous, vexatious and have no prospect of succeeding.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the plaintiffs do not specify what statute has been breached and/or how this gives rise to a maintainable cause of action.

But Justice Tafaoimalo disagrees.

 “I do not find that this is a vexatious cause of action or that it is frivolous. Serious consideration will need to be given to the manner in which the first plaintiff alleges she was interrogated,” she said. 

“However, at this point I do find that it should be re-pleaded along the lines of the elements of the tort so that it is more clearly set out for the substantive hearing. I grant leave to the plaintiffs to do this.” 

Her Honour also notes the first plaintiff is an infant and there is the question about her “depressive disorder”, which although not sufficiently pleaded and particularised at present, may become an issue in the substantive hearing. 

The matter will be re-mentioned on 2 July 2018.

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