Why Land and Titles Bill must be scrutinised by the public

The Lands and Titles Bill 2019 tabled in Parliament this week must be subjected to public scrutiny not once but twice and even three times.

This is what Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi said in Parliament. 

To support his motion, the Prime Minister stressed that the bill represents the audible concerns raised by the public in terms of setbacks and woes within the Judiciary Branch in the processing of court cases.

“For the record, this law is an initiative recommended by a Special Inquiry Committee endorsed by Cabinet as the Ministerial response to endless public complaints related to how cases were delayed and dealt with by the Judiciary Branch,” the Prime Minister told Parliament.

“It’s not an initiative by this administration or the Executive Branch as I continue to hold the highest of respects for democracy when it comes to checks and balances between the Judiciary, the Legislative and Executive Branches.

“Also Government continues to be under the public microscope when it comes to land issues as we have witnessed with the uninformed campaign questioning the LTRA 2008 instigated by a group of so call land reform freedom fighters,” continued the Government Leader.

“As I have repeated stated in public, there are political ulterior motives behind this campaign of mis-information with the organisers forming a Political Party eyeing the 2021 General Elections.

“That is why it is vital in the eyes of the government for the bill (Lands and Titles Bill 2019) to undergo due diligence and exhaust all opportunities for the public and any Samoa to be afforded the opportunity to have their say during the review of this legislation.”

Under the proposed bill it will become the Court of First Instance, Court of First Appeal and Court of Final Appeal.

While this will give petitioners a further avenue of appeal, it will also keep all appeals within the Land and Titles court, with no possibility of a judicial review in the Supreme Court as is the current practice.

The Land and Titles Bill seeks to repeal the Land and Titles Act 1981, according to the explanatory memorandum posted on the Parliament Web Site.

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The memorandum says the Legislative Assembly had passed a resolution to establish a Special Inquiry Committee to consider the rules and procedures of the Lands and Titles Court and to make recommendations to improve it, particularly in terms of transparency and accountability.

It also charged that the process be designed to discourage the adjournment of cases and to establish guidelines and transparent processes to appoint Lands and Titles Court judges for periodic terms.

The Land and Titles Court Bill is a long and detailed bill that will change the way grievances brought to the Land and Titles court, regarding matai titles and customary lands, are heard.

 

The Explanatory Memorandum tabled in parliament provides background and details surrounding the Lands and Titles Bill 2019;

The Bill seeks to repeal the Land and Titles Act 1981 (“Act”). 

In June 2016, the Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to establish a Special Inquiry Committee (“Committee”) to consider the rules and procedures of the Lands and Titles Court (“LTC”) and to make recommendations to improve the Lands and Titles Court, specifically, rules and procedures of the LTC to be transparent and accountable.

 The process should be designed to discourage the adjournment of cases and to establish guidelines and transparent processes to appoint Lands and Titles Court Judges on periodic terms. 

1.2 In response to the recommendations of the Committee the Government has drafted the Land and Titles Bill 2019 (“Bill”) to repeal and reform the Act. Other recommendations of the Committee will be addressed in separate Bills to follow, regulations, and rules of procedures which will be drafted and made after this Bill has been passed.

 2.0 The objects of the Bill are: 

2.1 To revise the Act and modify it to address some of the recommendations made by the Committee; 

2.2 to establish a new three (3) tier Court which: 

2.2.1 Comprises of the Court of First Instance, Court of First Appeal and Court of Final Appeal; and will be presided over by a legally qualified professional appointed as the President, Assistant President, Deputy President or the Presiding member of the Final Court of Appeal bench. In summary, each tier of the Land and Titles Court will be presided over by a legal professional.

There are 82 clauses in the bill which the Prime Minister is adamant must be subject to thorough public scrutiny and he is encouraging public to be part of the democratic process by voicing their opinions when public hearings and forums are called during the parliamentary review process.

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