Court dismisses foreign judge application

A Supreme Court application by the Attorney General for an overseas judge to hear an appeal against a District Court decision has been dismissed.

His Honour Chief Justice Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu, who presided over the application, heard submissions by lawyers representing the Attorney General and respondent, Fepuleai Atilla Ropati, before reaching the decision. 

Titi Rexona, counsel for the Attorney General, made a submission highlighting previous cases where members of the judiciary were tried by their own colleagues on the bench. 

But she submitted that this matter – where District Court Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papali’i discharged Fepuleai Atilla Ropati (currently president of the Land and Titles Court) of charges of assault, armed with a dangerous weapon and causing injury, and causing grievous bodily harm – should be distinguished from the others.

She further submitted that there is a risk of ‘justice not seen to be done’ if the matter was handled by Samoan judiciary members. 

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, and it is the first time for the Office of the Attorney General to file such an application before the Supreme Court.

But Aumua Ming Leung Wai, counsel representing Fepuleai, submitted that they strongly opposed the application as it lacked merit, is offensive and tarnishes the integrity of the Court. 

“We submit that the application is offensive as it is an affront to the dignity and integrity of the Supreme Court,” Aumua argued.

“However 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. 

“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.” 

Following the submissions by the two counsels, Chief Justice Patu dismissed the application.

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