Samoa Law Society responds
The President of the Samoa Law Society, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, is standing by the Society’s Council’s decision to refuse Leuluaiali’i Olinda Woodroffe a certificate to practice law in Samoa.
Speaking during a press conference yesterday, Savalenoa insisted that the decision made during the Samoa Law Society Council meeting of 5 February 2016 is in line with the Lawyers Legal Practice Act 2014.
As such, the decision is lawful and Constitutional, the President said.
“Even if the Act was passed last year, as a lawyer practicing in Samoa, she is still required to comply with the requirements of the Act pertaining to practicing here in Samoa, from the date the new Act came into force,” Savalenoa said.
“Mrs. Olinda Woodroffe may have only received the Council’s decision of 5th February 2016 recently, however, she has been asked on many occasions prior to that to comply with the requirements of the Act, relating to her practice here in Samoa.”
According to the President of the Samoa Law Society, when Leulua’iali’i applied for a practicing certificate for practice in 2015, the Council issued an unrestricted practicing certificate on the understanding she would ensure compliance in relation to the requirements of setting up Office.
“She sued the Council last year when we raised the practice requirements with her, including the likely impact on a revocation of her then already issued unrestricted practicing certificate.”
Leulua’iali’i later withdrew her lawsuit, giving an undertaking to meet the requirements of practice in Samoa. But up until now, she has not done that.
The President rejected claims from Leuluaiali’i that the Council has ignored the rights of her clients.
“It is in the interest of the clients that we are asking her to comply with the law and to ensure she is legally licensed to practice in Samoa,” Savalenoa responded. “We cannot go to New Zealand and practice there without a license to do so.
“The New Zealand Law Society will ask us to apply for a license. Mrs. Olinda Woodroffe is using her clients’ interest to hide the fact that she has been in breach of the law for some time now.
“If she truly wants to ensure her clients’ interests and matters are properly legally represented before the Courts of Samoa, then she should have ensured she complied with the requirements of setting up a practice here in Samoa.”
Savalenoa pointed out that Leulua’iali’i is not the only overseas-based lawyer who has been taken to task by the Council in terms of compliance. She said other Samoan lawyers such as Unasa Iuni Sapolu and the Hoglund Vaai lawyers based in New Zealand with offices here have been asked to comply and they have duly done that.
About the cases that Leulua’iali’i is schedule to appear in this week, Savalenoa said the Coucnil will not change its position. She added that the Council is not unreasonable and there is an ex-parte application before the Court.
As for claims from Leulua’iali’i alleging conflict of interest with some lawyers in the Council being involved in some of the cases she is handling, the President said this was not the case.
“We are not looking at what cases it is,” she said. “We are looking at the lawyer (and) whether they had a license. (The cases) that is not our issue, our issue is whether the lawyer appearing is properly licensed under the Lawyers Act.”
Further, she said there had been some issues with overseas-based lawyers in the past resulting in Court matters being adjourned.
“There were problems in the past in servicing documents,” she remembered.
“Most of the time there is no one at her office in Vailima and the gate is usually locked.
“In terms of servicing documents, there is a recipient paper to sign. You cannot go to the Judge and say I have sent the email to them. No you have to give the recipient paper and we had been very accommodating to lawyers overseas sending the papers.”
Savalenoa said this is one of the main reasons why most cases in the past were adjourned.
“It’s not fair to local lawyers if cases are continuously adjourned, dragging it.”
In Leulua’iali’is case, Savalenoa said to have an office in the country, she needs a lawyer with an unrestricted license to sit at the desk, which she does not have.
At the South Pacific Lawyers Conference in Brisbane, September 2015, the President said she had attended the meeting with Leulua’iali’i.
“She personally assured me that she would address the compliance issues for her practice in Samoa,” said Savalenoa. “She indicated that she would seek an audience with me, when she travels to Samoa for the Samoa Law Society Symposium in early December 2015 to discuss how she can meet the compliance requirements for her practice.
“She also enquired with me whether my law firm (Schuster Betham Annandale) could work with her office. I am also aware she enquired with other local firms for a similar type of arrangement…
“Her actions therefore demonstrated that she was well aware that she was, and is required to comply with the requirements of our Act pertaining to setting up practice here in Samoa. To date she has not complied with those requirements.”
Lastly, Savalenoa said the Council would look into disciplinary actions against Leulua’iali’i.