Lack of Consultation on Major Constitutional Amendments Concerns Samoa Law Society

Samoa’s Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration that houses the Supreme Court and the Lands and Titles Court.

 

Staff Reporters

 

APIA, SAMOA – 06 APRIL 2020: The Samoa Law Society is very concerned about the lack of consultation and the rushed manner in which the Government is pushing to pass three Bills that went through their second reading in last month’s session of Parliament.

The Bills are:

  1. The Constitution Amendment Bill 2020
  2. The Lands and Titles Bill 2020
  3. The Judicature Bill 2020

“The significance of these Bills cannot be understated. They contain major changes to the make-up of core institutions in our country’s legal system: our Courts and our Judiciary,” said President Leiataualesā Komisi Koria.

“These Bills have the potential to impact the rule of law in our country. Amongst others, the changes they make could affect access to justice and the right to a fair trial in the context of customary land and titles disputes.”

The proposed changes to the Constitution include taking out the Lands and Titles Court from the supervisory role of the Supreme Court and limiting the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

“This is a significant change given that the Supreme Court is one of the key three branches of Government regulated by the Constitution, which include the Executive, the Legislature and Judiciary,” explained the President.

“These three branches are separate because they act as checks and balances of each other and that is why their independence from each other is very important as a check and balance on the other branches of Government.”

President of the Samoa Law Society Leiataualesā Komisi Koria

One of the significant amendments that is of concern is the Remedies for enforcement of rights where if passed, “where a decision of the Lands and Titles Court breaches a fundamental right under the Constitution, the aggrieved party will no longer have the right to apply to the Supreme Court for enforcement and recognition of their constitutional rights,” according to Leiataualesā.

During last month’s parliamentary debate on the Constitutional Amendment, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi pointed out the need to legally recognize communal rights over individual rights. He quoted examples of previous court cases where Village Councils had lost against individuals because of this protection under the Constitution that he wanted changed.

The Samoa Law Society President said there are some questions about how the policy behind each of these Bills was informed, given that there was never any public consultation about them.

The Law Society has established a three member panel to coordinate and draw up its submission with inputs from members and is awaiting advice from the Clerk of the House as to when the Special Parliamentary Committee will sit to hear submissions from members of the public.

The Law Society is also calling on members of the pubic to appear and make submissions to the Committee given the implications these amendments could affect access to justice and the right to a fair trial in the context of customary lands and titles disputes.