2019 People of the Year: Patu Tiava’asu’e Falefatu Sapolu
Twenty-six years at the helm of the Judiciary as the Chief Justice of Samoa is an impressive feat. As the country’s longest serving Chief Justice, Patu Tiava'asu'e Falefatu Sapolu, needs no introduction.
Patu stepped away from the role during a valedictory sitting held at the Supreme Courtroom, Mulinu’u, in April this year. It ended an era, which started when he was sworn in by the former Prime Minister, the late Tofilau Eti Alesana, in 1992.
During an interview with the Samoa Observer at his residence, Patu revealed that becoming the Chief Justice was not part of his plans.
“I thought I’d be working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was my first job when I came home during the breaks,” he said.
“However upon my return from my studies, I was tasked to the Office of the Attorney General and that’s when I appeared in Court to prosecute criminal cases for the Police.”
And that’s how it all started.
Prior to that, his early education was at Marist Mulivai where he was Dux in 1964. He proceeded to St. Joseph’s College where he was also named Dux in 1968. Patu then secured a Government scholarship to study law in 1970 at the Otago University. The following year, he was transferred to the Auckland University where he attained his Bachelor of Law in 1972. Two years later he attained his Master’s degree.
“In 1976 I worked at the Attorney General’s office and six years later I was appointed as temporary Magistrate,” he said.
“And in 1982 I was appointed as the Court Registrar for the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration; the following year I started my private firm.”
Patu was appointed Attorney General in 1988. Three years later, he was appointed the Acting Chief Justice for five months.
“And in 1992 on 20 July, I was sworn in as the Chief Justice until the 23 April, 2019 when I retired,” he said.
Patu is passionate about his work.
He revealed this during a previous interview where he spoke about treating every case very seriously, regardless of who was involved and what the issues were.
“To me, all the cases that I have heard and decided on 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.
“All cases are important and I have dealt with cases that come before me on that basis.
“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 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.”
He said while being a Judge was time consuming and had its challenges, he gave it his all. He is extremely grateful for his wife, Iliganoa Sapolu, and their three children for their support throughout the years.
During his tenure as Chief Justice, he saw the construction of the Court House, which was seen as a historical step for the administration of justice in Samoa.
Under his watch as Chief Justice, there was the extension of retirement age for judges of the Supreme Court from 62 to 68 years and the establishment of specialist courts; Family Court, Family Violence Court, Alcohol & Drugs Court and Coroners Court.
Looking at the future, Patu revealed that after settling into their newly constructed residence, there are plans to open a consultancy firm catering for arbitration and mediation for members of the public to seek legal advice.
“But I will not be taking any legal matters to the court,” he said. “I will not be appearing in court anymore. It will not happen.”