Govt. moves to establish Final Court of Appeal for Land and Titles

A second Court of Appeal to be named Court of Final Appeal in the Land and Titles Court could soon be established, if the Land and Titles Bill 2019 tabled in Parliament earlier this year, gets the green light. 

The bill also takes into consideration recommendations from a Special Inquiry Committee tasked to consider rules and procedures of the LTC that discourages adjournments of cases in the Court. 

At the moment, the LTC has a Court of First Instance, Leave to Appeal Court and a Court of Appeal. Once the bill is approved, a second Court of Appeal will be established and will be called Court of Final Appeal. The bill seeks to repeal the Land and Title Act 1981.  

Minister of Justice and CourtsAdministration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, said the repeal will mean judiciary reviews – that are usually transferred to the Court of Appeal – will no longer be needed. It will be dealt with within the Land and Titles proposed Court of Final Appeal. 

“The bill will establish a second Court of Appeal,” said the Minister. 

“Matters from Land and Titles Court that are referred to the Court of Appeal are not appeals. 

“The criteria for anyone to be entitled to have their matter referred to judiciary review in Supreme Court, is only when Constitutional rights are affected but the Judiciary review cannot review merits of a Land and Titles Court decision…that is the law.”

According to Fa’aolesa, the establishment of the second Court of Appeal in the Land and Titles will mean matters will remain in the LTC jurisdiction and be dealt with by the LTC. 

The proposed Court of Final Appeal would require another three member panel to chair it. 

The Land and Titles Bill 2019 Explanatory Memorandum states in June 2016 the Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to establish a Special Inquiry Committee to consider the rules and procedures of the Lands and Titles Court. 

The Special Committee was also tasked to make recommendations to improve LTC, 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,” it stated. 

“In response to the recommendations of the Committee the Government has drafted the Land and Titles Bill 2019 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. 

“The objects of the Bill are: to revise the Act and modify it to address some of the recommendations made by the Committee; to establish a new three (3) tier Court which 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.” 

The Court of First Instance hears appeals from Village Fono. The Leave to Appeal Court is where appeals from the Lands and Titles Court are heard by the Court comprising the President and two Samoan judges appointed by the President.

When the bill was tabled in Parliament in January this year, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said the bill was subject to public scrutiny not once, but twice and even three times. 

In Parliament, Tuilaepa stressed 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. 

“As I have repeatedly stated in public, there are political ulterior motives behind this campaign of misinformation 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 Samoan to be afforded the opportunity to have their say during the review of this legislation.”

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