Chief Justice Patu’s life of service and P.M. Tuilaepa’s “secret whisper”

An era in the history of the judiciary in Samoa has ended. It’s an era that started in 1992 under the leadership of former Prime Minister, the late Tofilau Eti Alesana, who appointed a middle-aged lawyer, Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu then as the Chief Justice of Samoa.

Twenty-seven years later, His Honour Patu exited the bench Tuesday, having endured as Samoa’s longest serving Chief Justice.

This is not a small feat. Given the challenging nature of the role, his longevity is a reflection of his dedication; passion and unwavering commitment to the cause of justice. It is a feat worth emulating.

Today, we join the Head of State, His Highness Tuimaleali’ifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and the rest of Samoa in acknowledging Patu’s work and life of service.

The truth is that 27 years is a very long time – during which some pretty tough challenges could easily have discouraged him – but they didn’t. He persevered and withstood many tests, trials and tribulations to end his work on a high where at Mulinu’u, he was given the farewell he deserved.

Reflecting on his illustrious career, the Chief Justice was gracious enough to share some of the highlights with your newspaper during an interview with Chief Reporter, Joyetter Feagaimaali’, published on the front page in the Tuesday April 23, 2019 edition.  

At the outset, he said the role was not necessarily something he had aspired to.

“I never had any wish or aspiration to be a Chief Justice, when I was approached for the position,” he said. “As a matter of fact it took me a whole month to consider my options before I accepted the proposition. And I want to thank the late Tofilau for giving me the opportunity to serve our country through the Office of the Chief Justice.”

The rest as they say is history. One of his legacies without a doubt would be the way he approached all cases.

“To me, all the cases that I have heard and decided upon are important. The reason is that it is important to the parties and I have always tried to arrive at a fair and just decision,” he said.

“Many people think that the cases which attract public interest, cases that are newsworthy if I may put it that way, are the important cases. I understand that from the public’s point of view that some cases are more important than others, but to me as a Judge every case that I’ve had to deal with is important.

"Not because of the public attention it attracts, but because to me the issue that has to be decided is important to the parties.”

It’s undeniable that Patu would have won many admirers for his decisions and also just as many enemies. It’s the nature of the job. For in every case, there are two types of people, the party that wins and the party that loses. It’s human nature that no one likes to lose. And in a small community like Samoa, it becomes even more difficult.

Which is why Patu needed a strong support base, something he found in his wife, Iliganoa Sapolu, and his family.

“The public doesn’t know judicial work is hard work. It is time consuming and I know some of my judicial colleagues continue with their work when they’re home,” he said. "And I think our spouses deserve a thank you because if the Judge is going to work full time, so who is going to do the work at home?

“Who will be responsible? It will be the spouses; they are unsung heroes who have the heart to put up with us as we continue to take our work to our homes.”

He added: “It is a very absorbing job and it took up nearly all of my time and energy. And there was hardly any time for me to be involved with taking care of my family – that task fell on my wife. And I am very grateful for my wife for having to put up with me, while I devote my time and energy to my judicial work as Chief Justice."

Lastly, he offered words of wisdom to his colleagues, who will have to continue the work. Said His Honour Patu: “Continue to uphold the independence and impartiality and the integrity of the judiciary. In any democracy the rule of law is essential and in order for the rule of law to function properly, you need an independent and impartial judicial.

“If the judiciary is not independence and impartial then democracy is at risk because this is one of the pillars upon which democracy is built, you need a system of independent and impartial Courts.”

We couldn’t agree more. The Judiciary is critical in the life of any democracy – anything less would only result in democracy withering and dying a slow death.

Nobody wants this to happen in Samoa. Which is why the country needs Patu’s successor to be stronger and even feistier in the administration of justice and making sure that the Judiciary remains independent of the all-powerful Government.

The biggest question now is who will be that person.

In the newspaper you were reading Tuesday, Prime Minister Tuilaepa says he has yet to hear a “secret whisper” from God about who that person will be.

“We have to remember that when it comes to things like this, there’s only one place where the secret whisper comes from and that is from God,” he said.

“As we are speaking, I’m still waiting, I still haven’t had a prompting. Maybe God is not ready to tell me who the replacement will be.”

Asked about rumours that Samoa could have her first female Chief Justice, Tuilaepa said: “Let me ask God, in case I say something that could encourage such thinking. But as of now, no I haven’t had a prompting from our Heavenly father (about who will be the next Chief Justice).”

Only time will tell. So let’s wait, see and pray.

In the meantime, we want to again thank His Honour Patu for his life of service to the Judiciary and Samoa.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, God bless!

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