By Lealaiauloto Aigaletaulealea F. Tauafiafi
13.02.19, Wellington - The first substantive hearing of the Tokelau High Court concluded in Wellington yesterday. Justice Churchman said he will deliver a decision in due course which could take several weeks.
The historical event was marked by a number of unique elements in a court of law.
Porirua’s Reverend Tui Sopoaga was given leave to conduct an opening prayer on the first day. It included the singing of the Tokelau national anthem.
Lawyers appeared without their traditional gowns. Ms Hellene Wallwork of the Ongoing Government’s legal team wore a puletasi, a traditional Samoan dress, and a flower in her hair.
A journalist from Radio New Zealand was summoned to the court and told by Justice Churchman to correct a mis-reporting in one of their news articles.
And a music video compilation by the plaintiffs, about Tokelau, was played at the conclusion of the hearing.
The two day hearing saw three elected leaders of Tokelau, who are being sued as part of the Council of the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, appear in court. Two of them, Hon Afega Gaualofa, and Hon Siopili Perez taking the witness stand.
Lawyer for the plaintiffs told the High Court the dismissals of Mr Jovilisi Suveinakama and Mr Heto Puka were unlawful and sought remedies for loss of income with interest on top, loss of benefits, and damage to reputation; from the Ongoing Government of Tokelau.
The defendant’s lawyer outlined in detail that the dismissals were justified and lawful. That ample opportunities were given to the plaintiffs to defend their case during and after the Investigation that was commissioned by the General Fono (Tokelau’s legislative assembly) into the purchase of helicopters - but were not always taken up.
On the witness stand, both Faipule Mr Gaualofa and Mr Perez gave evidence that the purchase of the helicopters was never authorized by the Ongoing Government of Tokelau.
The two-day hearing was well attended by members of the Wellington Tokelau community. Many of them were impartial. They just wanted to hear the truth rather that take sides.
Hugs and tears between one of the plaintiffs and defendants was also observed.
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