In the latest twist in a series of legal battles dating back to 2014, the Supreme Court has ordered that the Tonga Weekly Newspaper Ltd be restored to the Register of Companies.
On March 29, 2019, Mele ‘Amanaki began proceedings against the Tongan Government, the Tonga Weekly Newspaper Ltd, Faka’osi Maama, the editor of the newspaper operated by the company and William Clive Edwards, then a director of the company for damages for defamation arising out of articles published by the newspaper on 20 March 2014, 1 1 April 2014 and 9 May 2014.
On December 10, 2019, Lord Chief Justice Whitten granted the Government’s application to strike out the claim against it and reserved leave to the plaintiff to re-plead any claim against the Government by 10 January 2020. No new pleading was filed.
During the course of the strike out application, it was revealed that the company was registered on 1 June 1, 2012; was entirely Government owned and had been removed from the Tongan register of companies and deregistered.
The judge said that under the Companies Act, a company continued to exist until it was removed from the Tongan register.
Accordingly, it was necessary to stay the proceeding pending the hearing and determination of any application by Mrs ‘Amanaki to restore the company to the register in order to determine whether she could proceed against the company in the defamation action.
The Government argued that Mrs ‘Amanaki did not have any undischarged claims against the company at the time it was removed from the register and had not initiated any legal proceedings against the company during its existence.
It also argued that the decision to deregister the company was made in the public interest, but that restoration would not be in the public interest because any related costs would have to be borne by the public and; further, that the company no longer has any assets, officers or employees and would not be able to fulfil its obligations under the Act.
On April 14 this year 2020, Mrs ‘Amanaki filed a memorandum in which stated that at the time the company was removed from the registry she had an undischarged claim against it.
In April 2014 she told her employer (the Executive Board of the Public Service Association) of her intention to sue the company for defamation.
That same month she wrote to the editor of the newspaper of her concerns about the alleged defamatory publications and to the then Prime Minister (whom she describes as “the head of the shareholder of the newspaper”) about her concerns regarding the alleged defamatory publications.
The court considered at length a number of issues regarding the wording and exact mechanism of removing a company from the register and the status of various defamation actions that had been initiated by Mrs ‘Amanaki.
Upon consideration of these matters and a number of legal precedents, Lord Chief Justice Whitten granted the application to restore the Tonga Weekly Newspaper Ltd to the Tongan register of companies.
He ordered that the company and its directors must immediately file all outstanding annual returns under the Act and pay all relevant fees and penalties.