The Land and Titles Court could be separated from the Civil and Criminal Courts. That is one of the options being considered by the government
Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, revealed this during his weekly media session.
The plan follows the findings and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry tasked to investigate the work of the Land and Titles Court Judges.
In its report tabled by Chairman of the Inquiry, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, the Commission makes 30 recommendations on ways to address concerns raised by members of the public, especially in relation to ways to speed up the process.
The Inquiry also recommends a restructure of the Land and Titles Court. As part of this, Parliament has been urged to appoint two Vice Presidents to help the President.
“The report is very good,” said Tuilaepa. “You know how you get so full after eating a starchy taro (talo mapo), that’s exactly how we feel with the findings of this report.”
He praised the work of the Commission, describing all the Commission members as big fishes.
“There was no one else other than the big fishes (laui’a) in the Commission. And the way I see it, the majority of our party (H.R.P.P.) support the idea to separate the two Courts.
“They support the idea to detach the Land and Titles Court from the Criminal and Civil Court.”
The Courts in Samoa are currently under the authority of a Judiciary Commission chaired by Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu.
According to Tuilaepa, the “belittlement” of L.T.C. is the main reason they are considering the change.
“That is why we are trying to balance out the importance of these Courts and then we will assign lawyers for the separate courts. A lot of M.P.’s agree with this idea.”
Tuilaepa is also mindful that the change would cost money.
“We need to make sure we have enough money if we want a new change.”
The Inquiry was headed by Member of Parliament and Chairman, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua. Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Nafoitoa Talaimanu Keti was the Vice Chairman with members including Lauofo Fonotoe Meredith, Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, Ili Setefano Ta’ateo, Faaulusau Rosa Stowers and Faumuina Wayne Fong.
The Inquiry was ordered by Prime Minister Tuilaepa on the back of a growing number of grievances about the performance of the Land and Titles Court.
But when the Commission set out to begin its work, they hit a snag. As the Acting President of the Land and Titles Court, the Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu, wrote to the Commission to object to the decision by Parliament.
In a letter dated 5 July 2016, Chief Justice Patu not only expressed his objection, he also informed the Commission that no Judge of the Land and Titles Court would appear before the Commission.
But that wasn’t the only problem. The former President of the Land and Titles Court, Tuala Tagaloa Kerslake also refused to appear before the Panel, despite being asked three times through official letters from the Commission.
In its report to Parliament, the Commission noted its disappointment and frustrations about the decision by the Chief Justice and Judges not to cooperate.
The Commission noted that under the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privileges Ordinance 1960, they could have summoned all the Judges to appear but they chose not to out of mutual respect.
But what will happen if the Judges continue to object?
“Nothing like that will happen,” said Tuilaepa.
“Once we pass a law then that’s it. You have to remember, the foundation of their work is based on the laws that are being passed by Parliament.
“Once Parliament passes a law, then they have to do it. This thing about the strike, nothing like that will happen.
“We have given them the report and that is their last chance. But if we go into the depth of things, the real answer will come out on what the Speaker of the House and the Cabinet members agree upon.”