Supreme Court Justice Lei’ataualesa Daryl Clarke has been appointed to preside over the hearing of an appeal against the District Court’s decision to acquit the President of the Land and Titles Court, Fepulea’i Atilla Ropati, of charges against him.
The appointment was made by the Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu, this week.
He revealed the appointment in the Supreme Court, when he dismissed the application made by the Attorney General’s Office for an overseas Judge to preside over the appeal.
“My reasons for the conclusion that I have reached for this matter will be produced in writing and given to counsels in due course,” said Chief Justice Patu.
“But the conclusion that I have reached is that the application is dismissed and now it is a matter for setting a hearing date for the appeal."
“Now, I do intend to allocate Justice Clarke again to hear this matter."
“It was before him for hearing when this matter was last before this Court and now that it is back again before this Court in the form of an appeal. I will ask Justice to preside on the appeal.”
On Wednesday, Aumua Ming Leung Wai, the lawyer representing Fepulea’i, strongly opposed the application for an overseas-based Judge.
He said the application lacked merit, was offensive and it tarnishes the integrity of the Court.
“The way the application is framed or worded, its effect undermines confidence in the judiciary and invites unnecessary criticism since the application presupposes that our local judges cannot be impartial and are not able to recuse themselves when they see fit to do so,” Aumua argued.
“We also submit that if the grounds raised by the application are genuine, then the same application for an overseas judge should have been made before the District Court.”
Titi Rexona, lawyer for the Attorney General’s Office, submitted at the time the risk of justice not to be done if the matter was handled by a Samoan judiciary member.
She argued that Fepuleai is a member of the judiciary by virtue of his appointment, his victim is an employee of the Ministry of Justice and knows Fepuleai.
She added that it is the first time for the Office of the Attorney General to file such an application before the Supreme Court.
In the end, Chief Justice dismissed the application.
The President of the Land and Titles Court remains suspended after he was charged over an incident where he smashed a bear bottle on the head of a security officer who was drinking alcohol on the job.