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Justice Vui Clarence Nelson - Championing a worthy cause

In August this year the Government commissioned the country’s Sex Offender Registry.

Its launching made Samoa one of the first in the region to establish a registry to keep track of and monitor the movements of sex offenders.

Supreme Court Justice Vui Clarence Nelson championed the cause from the bench, when he called for Government action, after presiding over criminal cases involving serial sex offenders. These included offenders with Samoan heritage, who were deported by their countries of residence, and allowed to settle in Samoa without considering the risks of them reoffending.

The Supreme Court Justice’s critical role, in laying the foundations for the establishment of Samoa’s Sex Offender Registry, is why he is a nominee for Samoa Observer’s Person of the Year 2018. 

Police Commissioner, Fuiavailili Egon Keil, acknowledged the role of Justice Vui in the establishment of the registry at the official opening in August this year.

“I acknowledge the tenacity of Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, as he was the person who championed this cause since 2012, so thank you for your deep concerns for the victims of Samoa,” he said.

The Sex Offenders Registration Act was submitted to Samoa’s Parliament last year, and in January this year was signed into law. The registry was commissioned by the Ministry of Police in partnership with the Attorney General’s Office seven months after the enactment of the law.  

Justice Vui told the Samoa Observer that the Sex Offenders Registry is about keeping the women and children of Samoa safe. 

“What prompted the move was seeing it in Court all the time, and what pushed me over the edge was the case of a man, who did it before and then came out on parole — and immediately did it again to a young kid who was his neighbor. 

“First thing he should not be allowed to live next door to young kids unsupervised; and secondly, at least the family next door would know the sex offender is out on parole,” he said. 

There were “others” who opposed the call to establish a registry, which the Supreme Court Justice said he found “very surprising”. 

“While it is a vital tool, there are certain aspects that I hope the Government will consider, such as registering a young offender for having sex with his girlfriend — who is two years younger than him or vice versa. The law was not made for reckless teenagers, rather for the real rapists and repeat sex offenders. Also in relation to the dangers posed by convicted sex offenders being deported back to Samoa from overseas,” he added. 

Justice Vui also commended the Government’s Law Reform Commission, which initiated and led extensive public consultations. 

“The Law Reform Commission spent a long time refining and redefining the legislation to suit Samoa’s needs.”  

Justice Vui also praised the Office of the Ombudsman and the Attorney General’s Office who strongly supported the legislation. 

“The credit should go to the Attorney General’s office, particularly the former Attorney General, Aumua Tautagaloa Ming Lueng Wai, who picked up on my comments and ran with it,” he added. 

Speaking during the launching of the Sex Offenders Registry in August, Fuiavailili said the system will ensure all sex offenders in Samoa provide their personal details — which is entered into a central database — and are slapped with restrictions that will prevent them from working in children-focused facilities. 

“The computerised database to name a few, list offender’s name, contact, numbers, address, nicknames, affiliation, photographs, fingerprints, tattoos, body scars and so on,” he added.  

The Supreme Court Justice has also been a vocal critic of the Government’s proposal to allow teachers to use “reasonable force” in schools.

Speaking in his capacity as a member of the U.N. Committee of the Rights of the Child, Justice Vui said a Samoan Government delegation had assured the U.N. in Geneva that corporal punishment had been abolished. 

 “This law is a retrograde step. We’re going backward. We were heading forward but now we’re going back and this law allows teachers to physically discipline their students in a reasonable manner based on their judgment.”

He is a member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child from 2019-2023 and is the first Samoan and Pacific Islander to sit on the Committee. 

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