Bills remove the protection guaranteed under Samoa’s Constitution

Former Attorney General, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu and senior lawyer Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio of the Samoa Law Society Review Committee.

 

Staff Reporters

 

APIA, SAMOA – 21 APRIL 2020: The Samoa Law Society Committee appointed to review the three constitutional amendment Bills that have gone past their second reading in parliament, says the Bills remove the ability of the person to enforce his constitutional rights and thus remove the protection guaranteed under the Constitution of Samoa.

In an interview series in Samoan now available on Talamua social media platforms, Chair of the Committee, former Attorney General Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu and senior member Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio say this guaranteed ability of every Samoan will be taken away from them when they have proceedings within the Lands and Titles Court, if these proposed Bills become law.

They dispute the statements by the Prime Minister in a recent interview where he discussed the Judiciary’s letter objecting the three Bills, saying there had been consultation in a special inquiry committee for Lands and Titles Court appointed by Parliament in 2016.

Samoa Law Society Speaks to Talamua

 

The Judiciary has expressed grave concerns over the lack of proper consultation given the seriousness of the implications of the constitutional amendments for the judiciary system and the country as a whole.

The 2016 Parliamentary Committee the PM referred to comprised of seven members of parliament and chaired by Hon. Lopao’o Mu’a. That committee heard 145 oral submissions, received 42 written submissions and reported back to Parliament with a report in December 2016. Among the many problems identified by the Committee with the Lands and Titles Court, were:

  • Favouritism displayed by the judges in the Lands and Titles Court;
  • Prejudice by Judges in the Lands and Titles Court;
  • Judges of Lands and Titles Court failing to declare conflicts of interest;
  • Judges of Lands and Titles Court unprepared to hear cases on the day of the hearing;
  • Inconsistent decisions between judges of the Lands and Titles Court;
  • Unsigned decisions by Judges of the Lands and Titles Court;
  • Too many adjournments of a case in the Lands and Titles Court;
  • Increase of requests for appeals in the Lands and Titles Court;
  • Incomplete records kept by the Ministry of Justice for Lands and Titles Court proceedings;
  • Missing documents from files in the Lands and Titles Court proceedings;
  • Long delays in decisions in the Lands and Titles Court;

The Bills do not address these problems
The Law Society Committee says changes proposed by these three Bills do not address these problems identified in the committee report.

“There was nothing in the committee report about recommending taking away the ability to enforce constitutional rights by Samoans who have proceedings within the Lands and Titles Court nor anything about separating the Lands and Titles Court from the Supreme Court.

“If anything, these Constitutional Rights of guaranteed fair trial and independence of a judge to hear a person’s case is there to protect people from these problems identified by the Committee in their report,” said the statement.

“Right to fair trial and an independent judge means that a person should go to the Lands and Titles Court and not fear:

  • Favouritism or prejudice of a judge;
  • Judges with conflict of interest and not declaring them;

“And if they have a case and a judge shows favouritism, prejudice and fails to declare a conflict of interest, that person can seek to enforce their right to fair trial and independent judge from the Supreme Court because every Samoan is protected by the Constitution. This guaranteed ability of every Samoan will be taken away from them when they have proceedings within the Lands and Titles Court if these proposed Bills become law.

“Therefore the Committee Report identifies problems but these problems are not addressed in the proposed Bills nor are these changes in the recommendations of the Committee.”

The Law Society has submitted its written submission to the Parliamentary Select Committee.

The Samoa Law Society Committee appointed to review the three Bills is chaired by former Attorney General Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latū and members include President Leiataualesā Komisi Koria, Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, Tanya Toailoa, Brigitta Lo Tam, Muriel Lui, Precious Chang and Matafeo George Latū.