Get public defenders to include civil matters
Member of Parliament, Faumuina Tiatia Liuga, has urged the Government to get the Public Defender’s Office to take on civil matters.
He said the Government has surplus from the last two financial years that can assist the office and its work.
“We are now investing funds into assisting and protecting criminals, yet this Office should be put to better use for civil matters.
“I have been involved in civil matters on numerous occasions, mainly from the general elections, and yet there is no assistance provided for civil,” Faumuina said.
But Minister of Justice Courts and Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainuu, clarified that a public defender is an attorney-at-law appointed by the Court to represent those who cannot afford a private attorney.
“The purpose of this measure is to assist the low income earners, people who cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in the Court of law for criminal matters.
“Under the law, this Office is labeled as a public advocate, however, under the measure will amend it to Public Defender.”
Talking about his own litigation, Faumuina said after every general election he always ends up in Court for civil matters.
“These civil matters literally drain candidates financially and now this service was removed. Where can we go for assistance? Civil matters are very expensive,” he said.
“The Government should consider including civil representation into this law. For example, if I have to investigate the qualifications of my opponent in the general election – yet that criteria should be set by the Election Office for any candidate – so I don't have to take this matter to Court.
“These are some of the issues and yet we are now moving to protect the criminal, and leave the rest to fend for them,” Faumuina added.
But the Minister explained that the purpose of the measure is to assist low-income workers facing criminal charges, and the law only caters for criminal matters due to the lack of funding.
But Faumuina didn’t accept the response and added that it was time for the Minister to act.
“The Minister said that time will come, but I tell you there is no time, now is the time to act. And just last week the Prime Minister have cautioned Ministries who are not using monies budgeted for the financial year.
“In 2016 the surplus was $61 million and $101million was the surplus for 2017 and we are expecting another surplus for the financial year 2018. How can you say there is no money?
“The protecting of our people should be paramount and yet you claim the lack of funds is being used as an excuse by the Minister, I am saddened. This is clearly discrimination,” Faumuina added.
Adding to the debate, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said it is “stupid” criminals are entitled to legal representation paid for by tax payers.
“However, the purpose of this bill is to assist those who cannot afford legal representation but it is only for felony cases.”
The Prime Minister also expressed concern at lawyers who took advantage of the legal aid program.
“They target the Government and in return they represent clients under the legal aid paid for by the Government,” he added.
The Public Defenders Office, according to Tuilaepa, was adopted by the Samoan Government to fund legal representation for low-income earners.
“As a tax payer, I refuse to pay for legal representations for criminals, they should pay for their own lawyers given it is their crime. However, this is one way the Government can assist those who cannot afford a lawyer,” he added.
Parliament was informed by the Minister that the current budget allocated for the Legal Aid program will go directly to run the Public Defender’s Office.