Members of the Tu’ulā, Sogimaletavai and Sagale families gather outside Court after the decision was delivered.
By Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA – 28 JULY 2020: The Tu’ulā family of Saleapaga village have successfully challenged the village decision to banish the family and the Lands and Titles Court has ruled that the Tu’ulā family return to Saleapaga, a sub-village of the Lepā district.
There were 4 parties to the case, two petitioners and two respondents.
The first petitioner was led by Tu’ulā Ae Ulisese and Tu’ulā Kiliri Lafi Tuitui and the second petitioner was led by Lopau Tu’ulā Tavili and Lolofietele Koroseta.
The first respondent was led by Sogimaletavai Ualesi Sagapolutele and Sogimaletavai Togisala 11 while Sagale Lauiliu and Sagale Aila’ula’u represented the second respondent.
It is more than 3 years since the Tu’ulā family was banished from the village. On the 20 February 2020, the family sought the Courts assistance as they wanted to return home.
On the 26 February 2020, a mediation between the disputing parties was unsuccessful and the Tu’ulā family decided to take legal action.
Prior to this case, the Court had already dealt with a matter regarding the status of the Tu’ulā title within the village in 2006.
The 2006 decision clearly stated that the ownership of the Tu’ulā title is with the heirs of the title and that the Sagale and Sogimaletavai titles had no right over the Tu’ulā title.
In Court, the Tu’ulā family argued that they had not committed any wrong to warrant banishment. They believed the banishment was due to the 2006 decision where the Court acknowledged the Tu’ulā title as a chiefly title – Sa’o.
The family also believed the real reason was that Sogimaletavai and Sagale wanted control of the Tu’ulā title.
The second petitioner Lopau Taavili said Tu’ulā does not serve under the Sagale and Sogimaletavai titles.
The respondents however argued that the Tu’ulā family breached the village practice by claiming that the Tu’ulā title held the same status as the Sagale and Sogimaletavai titles.
Both respondents said within Saleapaga village, there were only two Sa’o, Sagale and Sogimaletavai.
“The claim that the Tu’ulā title is of chiefly status is new in the village, and if they want to return to the village, they should return under the umbrella of the Sogimaletavai title,” argued Sogimaletavai.
However, Sagale contradicted that claim by arguing that the Tu’ulā family chooses which of the Sagale or Sogimaletavai titles they should come under.
The Court heard that none of the Tu’ulā family were present when the decision to banish the family was made, but humbly accepted the decision to avoid any confrontation.
Sagale confirmed before the Court that the Tu’ulā family never went around him or Sogimaletavai when it comes to village issues.
“Nothing like that happened but since the Court decision of 2006, a new Sa’o is added to the number of Sa’o in the village, which does not conform to usual practice,” said Sagale.
The Court ruled that the banishment of the Tu’ulā family was not done in accordance with the Village Fono Act 2017 or the Lands and Titles Act 1981.
“If a crime was committed, the Ali’i ma Faipule should follow the process of first informing the guilty party, then give them a chance to defend themselves, a chance to submit a written statement whether they agree to the terms of the penalty or not and the Village Fono to investigate fully the matter before a decision is reached.”
The Court found that the requirements of the Village Fono Act were not carried out when the decision to banish the Tu’ulā family was made.
The Respondent could not prove beyond reasonable doubt their argument and the Court ordered the return of the Tu’ulā family back to Saleapaga village.