Wale v. Attorney-GeneralJudgment
- Question Presented
- (1) Whether an unregistered party is considered a “non-contesting party” and is thus prohibited from forming a coalition with registered parties or independent groups in Parliament. (2) Whether the party registration requirement under the Political Party law to prove a certain number of registered voters support the formation of a party interferes with the voluntary nature of political parties and is a violation of the constitutional rights to freedom of association and assembly?
- Alleged Acts
- The First and Second Claimants, Matthew Wale and the SIDP respectively, alleged that the PPI Act was contrary to the Constitution because it prohibited Wale from contesting the 2014 election as a member of the SIDP. The Political Party Integriy Act related law provides that you can contest an election as a registered party or as an independent candidate. Both Claimants also alleged that the PPI Act is contrary to the Constitution because it does not allow unregistered political parties to run.
- Procedural history
- The First and Second Claimants, Mathew Wale and the SIDP, respectively, sought declaratory orders from the High Court that certain provisions of the PPI Act were contrary to the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and association pursuant to the relevant sections of the Constitution of the Solomon Islands and the Solomon Islands Courts (Civil Procedure) Rules. The Constitution of the Solomon Islands grants the High Court jurisdiction over cases involving questions of Parliament membership. The Attorney-General represented the Political Parties Commission and the Registrar of Political Parties, both of which supported the challenged legislation.
- The PPI Act established certain registration requirements for candidates and political parties wishing to participate in the 2014 National General Election. Matthew Wale failed to meet the new requirements (to be registered as a party with support from registered voters) and appealed the Attorney-General’s decision to prevent him from running for election. The SIDP also sought to be recognized as a non-contesting party in order to participate in the formation of government after it was barred from participating as an unregistered political party. The High Court noted that the freedom of assembly and association to form or join a political party is a fundamental right except for reasons set out in subsection 13(2) of the Constitution, including: interests of defense, public safety, public order, public morality, and public health, among others. Such exceptions must be “reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.” Thus, if a Claimant successfully shows that his right to assemble and associate has been infringed, he must then also show that the infringement does not fall under a subsection 13(2) exception. Finally, the Claimant must show that the restriction is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. In this case, the Court noted that a party’s decision not to register is not the same as an infringement of an individual’s rights to form or join a party. The Court pointed to the “‘unsung constitutional obligation’ of the State to maintain peace, order and good governance of the country…” in deciding that the relevant sections of the PPI Act “further enhance, protect or secure the public order, public interest and public welfare of the people of the Solomon Islands.” Clear guidelines for the administration and supervision of political parties, including required registration, can only “improve political certainty, focus and stability in governance in Solomon Islands.” The Court referenced the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea’s argument in examining that country’s Organic Law on the Integrity of Political Parties and Candidates (which also requires registration of political parties) that such registration “in no way alters the voluntary nature of the political parties and their membership and activities.” The Court also pointed to consistent rulings from the European Court of Human rights that registration requirements “do not, in themselves, represent a violation of the right to free association,” given “administrative necessities for the functioning of a democracy.” Registration requirements therefore do not interfere with the voluntary nature of political party membership, do qualify as an exception for the public interest, order, and safety, and have not been proven to be unjustifiable in a democratic society. Regarding the allegation that the PPI Act—by requiring a minimum number of registered voting members to form a political party—only allows registered voters to join political parties, the Court held that the decision to join a political party or not remains a matter of choice for the individual. These enforced minimums were held to be “standard requirement(s)” that do not prohibit membership of both registered and unregistered individuals. The Court also held that the SIDP did not fit the PPI Act’s definition of a “non-contesting party,” namely, a registered party that has decided not to contest an election. Finally, the Court held that unregistered parties by choice are prohibited from entering into coalition agreements with registered political parties or independent members. The decision to register (or not) is a matter of choice for the political party; by not registering, the party is deprived of the right to enter into coalition agreements by process of law.
- The Court held that the PPI Act sets party registration requirements, which did not alter or interfere with the voluntary nature of political parties as to their membership and activities and are not contrary to the Constitution. These restrictions “do come within the exceptions of public, [sic] interest, public order and public safety and that it has not been shown that they not [sic] reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. . The SIDP is not a “non-contesting party,” and is prohibited from forming a coalition with a registered political party and/or independent Members of Parliament.
- Legal Issue(s)
- Freedom of association and assembly
- Party Registration
- Voters' Rights
- Applicable Law(s)
- Section 13 of the Constitution of the Solomon Islands, Political Parties Integrity Act 2014 (No.9 of 2014)
- Solomon Islands
- High Court
- Election Type
- Date of decision
- Nov 14, 2014
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