Supreme Court Justice Lei’ataualesa Darryl Clarke is fed up with what he has described as the “unlawful release” of inmates by the Samoa Prisons and Corrections Authority.
And from the bench, he has openly criticised the system, threatening to hold the Prison’s Commissioner “in contempt of Court if this continues to happen.”
The Judge’s comments were made during the case of a convicted murderer who was released less than three years after his sentence. Lilo Lilo, was convicted in October 2013. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he is not eligible for parole until 2023.
But that was not the case.
When Lilo was released on weekend parole, he was re-arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.
Back in Court, Lilo pleaded not guilty to the drug charge.
A hearing on the matter was held and he was found guilty.
This was when Justice Lei’ataualesa found that he was not supposed to have been released at all. Inmates who serve life imprisonment are eligible for parole upon serving 10 years.
In Court, Lucymaria Sio, a lawyer for the Attorney General’s Office agreed with Justice Lei’ataualesa.
“The defendant as per regulation is not eligible for weekend parole,” she said.
The Prosecutor then directed the Court to the “explanation provided by the prison’s authorities.”
But Justice Leiataualesa wouldn’t have it.
“There’s no explanation for unlawful, release of prisoners! This is a continued problem.”
The Prosecutor agreed and explained that they’ve advised the Prisons Authorities.
“This defendant was released in contrary to the regulations of 2014 which notes that he’s not supposed to be eligible for weekend parole.
“The release of this prisoner is unlawful therefore non-compliance with what is allowed by the regulation.”
But Justice Lei’ataualesa was not convinced.
“Why is the Prison continuing to do this despite the fact that the Court has raised this many times, and its consistent from the Commissioner? If this continues, it will be a matter that I will refer for contempt.
“These prisoners are being imprisoned pursuant to a Court order, if there are continuing breaches of sentences by the Prisons authorities that is a contempt of the sentencing.... of the Court.
“That undermines the whole justice system, what point is it that we sentence people to imprisonment and they are supposed to stay there and the prisons authorities does this.
“I do not understand how the Prison authorities continue to do this.”
The Court heard from Prosecutor Sio that there appears to be a misinterpretation of the discretion the Commissioner can exercise.
“We will refer this issue once again to the relevant stakeholders in relation to allowing these prisoners to be on parole,” she explained.
Justice Leiataualesa pointed out “if the regulation that I have seen are the only regulations, then there’s entirety of prisoners released on Christmas and New Year is unlawful.
“And as I understand it is not a single person or two or three. If the reports in the media are true, the Commissioner has released 70 or more people unlawfully.
“This is not a matter in this case that I will consider referral prosecution services for contempt. That, I will make quite clear! If this does arise again before my Court, I will refer the matter for prosecution for contempt of court.”
To the Prison Authorities, Justice Leiataualesa said: “The prison must understand they do not have an unfitted discretion.
“The Commissioner has no unfitted discretion and simply he does not understand that. The usual process is that he gets legal advise and he acts upon it. If he continues to breach that knowingly then he will have several issues that he will need to deal with.”
Justice Leiataualesa offered his apologies to Prosecutor Sio for his reaction.
“I apologize at my displeasure expressed at you, it’s not the prosecution. It is the prison services who continue to do this.”
He told the Prosecution to relay his comments to the Prison Authorities.
“If the Commissioner would have been here, had you indicated to me yesterday, then he would've been the subject of these comments.”
Justice Leiataualesa concluded by informing Lilo that his sentencing has been postponed to next week Monday, as there are issues that need to be addressed.
“Parts of that has to do with the fact that you were unlawfully released by the prison service and you shouldn’t have been released.
“Prisoners must be released according to the law and you were not released according to law.”
It was not possible to get a comment from the Prisons yesterday.