Justice Tuatagaloa N.Z. Prime Minister’s Fellow

Therapeutic courts in Samoa established in partnership with New Zealand have been successful across the country.

This is the opinion of Justice Mata Keli Tuatagaloa, Samoa’s first female judge, who visited the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (MFAT) Wellington office last week as a Prime Minister’s Fellow.

The programme involves an influential person being invited to New Zealand to develop relationships and identify future opportunities for collaboration.

In 2016, New Zealand Judge Ema Aitken worked with local judiciary and members of the church in Samoa to establish a new court in the hope it would reduce the number of alcohol and drug related crimes.

Justice Tuatagaloa was appointed the head of the Samoa Alcohol and Drugs Court (ADC) at Judge Aitken’s request in 2016. Reflecting on the court’s impact in Samoa, she commented on its expansion across the country in a short amount of time. 

 “It was a new idea when Judge Aitken came to set up the court, it was a new mindset for the judges, as we were taught that the law was very black and white and we’d never heard of a therapeutic approach before,” Justice Tuatagaloa said.

 “When we first started it was a pilot programme with a few villages and then after the first year we opened up to the whole of Samoa including Savai’i, where offenders attending the programmes live with family in Upolu rather than being kept in prison.  Since March 2018 the ADC now also sits in the District Courts.”

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Justice Tuatagaloa will present a full report at the end of February which coincides with the Court’s three-year anniversary.

MFAT has recently funded a New Zealand clinical psychologist to spend a year evaluating and reviewing the Family Court, Youth Court, and Alcohol and Drugs Court, at Justice Tuatagaloa’s request.

 “The clinical psychologist comes highly recommended by my judicial colleagues here and I thought it was important for the review especially coming up three years since the opening of the Alcohol and Drugs Court,” Justice Tuatagaloa said.

During her visit to Wellington Justice Tuatagaloa met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, where they discussed the close New Zealand–Samoa relationship, opportunities for further collaboration in the judicial sector, and reminisced on their times attending Waikato University. 

She was the first female judge appointed to the Samoa District Court in 2011. 

“My first question to the Chief Justice when being approached to be a judge was, if you’re appointing me because I’m a woman, I won’t accept it, but if you’re appointing me on my merit, then I will gladly accept it.”

She recalled feeling a sense of immense responsibility upon being approached for the role. 

 “I like to think that I have done a good job because they have considered other women to come on the bench.”

Justice Tuatagaloa also met with Minister Carmel Sepuloni, Minister Aupito William Sio, Judge Andrew Becroft, incoming Chief Justice Helen Winkelmann, and Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban.

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