Members of the Samoa Law Society (front row) Matafeo George Latu, Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria (President) Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu (Council Chairperson). (Back row) Mauga Precious Chang, Muriel Lui, Helene Wallwork-Lamb, Fiona Eye and Maposua Tanya Toailoa.
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA: The Samoa Law Society is maintaining its stance to withdraw the 3 Bills now awaiting its final reading and endorsement of a two thirds majority in Parliament.
The 3 Bills are the Judicature Bill, the Land and Titles Amendment Bill 2020 and the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020.
The Law Society is concerned that the Bills will destabilize the country’s judicial system and will compromise the rule of law.
The Society made its final submission to the Special Parliamentary Committee on Wednesday this week, then fronted the media on where the matter stands from their own perspective.
When the Society made its first submission in July this year, the Special Parliamentary Committee asked them for recommendations, and the Society presented those recommendations yesterday.
The Society’s Council Committee Chair, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu said their recommendation was to withdraw the 3 Bills and take it off the (Parliaments) Order Paper and after the election, if that is what Government wants to do, then start talking with the people first before drafting.
“The Government should form up policies and identify what the outcomes will be, why change it, what’s better and what’s not,” said Taulapapa. “So at least they have a basis to go by and then draft the law, but not drafting the law and then go and ask after,” explained the former Attorney General.
The overall argument by the Society is to give the Bills a chance to be well addressed through the normal consultation process to give everyone a clear understanding of the Bills and what they present.
The Law Society was one of the first professional groups to openly oppose the Bills and have been personally attacked by the Prime Minister for their stance that only strengthened their public awareness efforts for the public to understand the implications of the Bills.
“There is still time for people to express their views on the Bills before it’s passed,” she said.
“Between now and November when the Bills return to Parliament, Samoans all over the world can express their views through their MP’s so their voices can be heard in Parliament before it is passed into law,” said Taulapapa.
This is the first time in the 44 history of the Samoa Law Society that it had taken such a major step in relation to the 3 Bills “because it is worried.”
“These Bills undermine the fundamental fabric of justice in this country and they also take away the authority and the discretion of all Samoans,” said Taulapapa.
She also said the Bills will take away the power and authority of the Alii ma Faipule, the villages and districts under the new (proposed) Lands and Titles Court.
The Law Society united over the 3 Bills
The Society and its members had been the target of personal and demeaning attacks on the media by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi who said that the Law Society was misleading the country and accused them for pretending that all lawyers are in support of their position.
Asked if there was any proof of the Prime Ministers argument, the Law Society President Leiataualesā Komisi Koria said the Society is a democratic one that relies on the democratic process when dealing with issues within the Society.
“Every member was given a chance to voice their thoughts and there were provisions that they agreed to and provisions they did not agree to, but for today’s final submission, all members of the Society were in support,” explained Leiataualesā.
That support was also noted when the Executive was re-elected during their AGM in July so they could continue with the issue at hand.
“Ae tusa ai ma saunoaga le mafaufau a le Palemia, ou te le amanaiaina na saunoaga,” said Taulapapa.
A provision to take Government to Court
The Law Society was accused of being sitting ducks and only reacted after the Bills were tabled which raised the question of why they left things to Government when their opinions as legal experts were needed.
They were also asked if there were provisions for legal action against the Government.
Taulapapa, a former Attorney General explained that the process is that the office of the Attorney General deals with such issues but there is also a directive from the Prime Minister to refer such matters to the Law Society.
“They never complied and did not use that as well – Sa soli uma na mea e le’i fa’aogaiga,” said Taulapapa.
“Government wanted to establish and pass these Bills without anyone knowing it,” Taulapapa explained. “And we only found out when they were tabled and put to its first and second readings.”
The Judiciary were the first to publicly voice their concerns that there were problems with the Bills and followed by Law Society after reading it.
She said the noises made then and the public awareness raised by the Society had stopped the Bills from being passed in May 2020.
“We have done the best we can do, and as long as there is the Constitution and Supreme Court that allow us the ability to set a review of the legislation we think that is breached, there is also hope,” said Taulapapa.