An article on the Samoa Observer reported that an aggrieved party was appealing a case in court because the judge did not disclose that he had affiliations with one of the biggest churches in Samoa, this Church being the party that won the case.
Earlier this year the Court of Appeal accepted an appeal from an aggrieved family who was challenging the bias of one of the judges who heard their matter in the Land and Titles Court.
The background to this matter was that the aggrieved family had, after years of fighting for justice at the Land and Titles Court, finally had to bring proceedings to the Supreme Court.
After the Land and Titles Court judge had earlier declared his conflict of interest because he was related to the other party, this same judge then proceeded to hear the matter a few years after his declaration.
The aggrieved family asked for another judge but this judge continued to hear the case.
The concerning issue is that this aggrieved party had to fight the matter in Court three times (the Land and Titles Appeal Court, the Supreme Court and then Court of Appeal) for a Court of Law to finally acknowledge that there was clearly something wrong with a conflicted judge hearing and determining a matter.
It was only when the family went to the Court of Appeal of Samoa that a Court finally acknowledged that the family was right; they had a right to an independent and impartial judge.
In the dramatic saga in which key figures of the government arm of law and order are involved, a key figure in government that now holds the two roles of prosecution and defender of government is a cousin of the half sibling of a key figure in government that is prosecuted in this dramatic saga.
A judge hearing one of these prosecutions has family connections to two people who are key witnesses in support of this key Government figure being prosecuted, without seemingly having declared these family connections.
One may argue that in Samoa, everyone is related somehow and therefore necessity provides that judges must continue to sit on these hearings; otherwise the role of the judiciary will be defeated.
However Samoa is growing and so is its judiciary; that excuse has now become old and used.
There are many, many judges of the Land and Title Court, and the Supreme Court and District Court now have an unprecedented number of judges.
Surely there would be at least one judge with no close affiliations with the parties?
And people will always question the ruling of that judge and trust in the system will be no more!
It’s time to stop making excuses that we are a small country, and start upholding that principles of natural justice and transparency and accountability that our small country is well known for preaching to our neighbours.
Otherwise, this Commission of Inquiry into the Lands and Titles Court, which dangerously muddles the line between the executive and the judicial arms of the State, becomes justified.
And who knows, maybe that Inquiry might even be extended to include the higher hierarchy!
Inoino i le le faia o le amiotonu.