P.M. Tuilaepa responds to Judges' letter

Judges of the Court will be summoned to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee to express their views about proposed changes to the makeup of the Courts by the Government, including the creation of an independent Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.). 

That's the response from Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, to a letter from Judges of Court in which they strongly opposed the Government's proposal. The Judges' objection is made in a letter to the Executive Director of the Samoa Law Reform Commission, Teleiai Dr. Lalotoa Mulitalo, and is dated 6th April 2020. 

A copy of the letter obtained by the Sunday Samoan is signed by the Acting Chief Justice, Vui Clarence Nelson, Senior Justice Niava Mata Tuatagaloa, Justice Tafaoimalo Leilani Tuala-Warren, Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke, Justice Fepulea'i Ameperosa Roma, Senior Judge Talasa Atoa-Saaga, Judge Alalatoa Rosella Papalii, Judge Leota Ray Schuster and Judge Loau Donald Kerslake.

The letter from the Judges also claims the support of the Land and Titles Court, "whom we understand have elected to respond separately."

But Tuilaepa said that even if the Judges oppose the proposed Constitutional amendment, they will be summoned to share their views. He then made reference to a Legislative Assembly Powers and Privileges Ordinance 1960 which gives Parliament the power to summon all Judges to appear before the Committee.  

Under the legislation, the Legislative Assembly can summon the attendance of witnesses before a Select Committee or issue a warrant if one does not comply with such a summons. 

“The [Parliament] Committee will summon them to explain this [the letter],” he said during TV1's Taimi ma le Palemia programme.

“They will be given that opportunity because it is a must. Even if its [they share] opposing perspectives but if they had turned up the first time [they were asked to give submissions] they would have a better understanding by now.”

Tuilaepa was referring to 2017 when the Judges of L.T.C. were asked by a Commission of Inquiry tasked to investigate their work to give submissions. 

At the time, former Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu had instead responded in a letter to the Commission electing for Judges not to appear before the Inquiry. 

About the Criminal and Civil Courts, Tuilaepa said the Chief Justice spends most of his time on the Courts instead of the Land and Titles Court. 

He made the point that that is the reason why the President of L.T.C. should make the final decision on L.T.C. cases in the Court “because the President [of L.T.C.] understands it better”. 

Tuilaepa said the Parliament will not get into a debate with the Judges because the entities do not intervene with each other. 

“Once a legislation is passed, it's then passed on to the Courts to make rulings [based on it],” he said. 

“Which means that lawyers and Judges interpret the law passed by Parliament. We make the laws that keep the country in order and they interpret the law.  Judges and lawyers should know this…” 

About the letter from the Judges, Tuilaepa criticised the author of the letter for writing in English, saying it was clear that the writer does not value the Samoan language.  He said if the Judge who penned the letter valued his own customs and traditions, the letter would have been in Samoan. 

“If you go to Courts in Arab or China, their proceedings are in their native language,” said Tuilaepa.  “It is a waste of money [to pay] for translators and it’s the other reason why some Police cases didn’t win because they used English there [at the Courts] but other officers don’t understand English. They are not lawyers.” 

Tuilaepa said he prays for the day when Samoan Judges will use their own language during Court proceedings. Similarly, the Prime Minister added that even the Lawyers Society do not value their own language when they also wrote a letter in English. 

“Stop speaking English," he said. 

In relation to the letter, Tuilaepa said he had read it when it was published in the Samoa Observer and he had also been copied in the letter. 

He said the usual “government process” is that one person writes the letter and it is then passed on to others to read through, and they agree and sign if they agree to its content. 

Tuilaepa claims that some of the Judges might have just signed the letter without even reading through it. 

In terms of the concerns raised by Judges, Tuilaepa said Parliament feels that there is not much emphasis being placed on Samoan customs and traditions in the Constitution. 

He pointed out a Commission of Inquiry was called to investigate the work of Judges, due to multiple complaints from members of the public regarding sacred issues relating to land and title. 

Tuilaepa said the grievances from the public have been raised by their respective Members of Parliament who are in the Legislative Assembly. 

“People have sought help from the Courts but had folded their arms [on them],” he said. 

“They have gone to their Members of Parliament because there is no one else to go to – to address their concerns it had fallen on deaf ears.”

Some of the concerns from the public, said Tuilaepa, is the absence of written Court ruling on matters that date back more than 20 years. 

He explained that because there are no written decisions delivered in some Court matters, the long delays in making it unavailable, can lead to mistakes being made in the decisions. 

“This is the responsibility of the Legislative Assembly is to protect these sacred heritage in accordance to Samoan customs and traditions,” he said. 

“The Commission was setup to find solutions to these concerns and when the Inquiry was called they [Judges] did not turn up. Not one Judge turned up but there are powers under parliament privileges that can summon them but that was not done out of respect.”

Tuilaepa said a public consultation was called and the submissions made were used to pierce together the amendment in the legislation that the Judges have opposition to. 

“They were given the opportunity but they decided to oppose it,” he said.  

The Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 has been referred to Parliament Committee for submissions before it goes for its third reading in Parliament. 

The Prime Minister maintained that Parliament had followed parliamentary procedures in amending the Constitution. 

He described the letter from the Judges as “shallow” when it made comparisons of the proposed Constitutional amendment to a “plaything of politicians”.  

Tuilaepa said to suggest that the amendment was a “plaything of the politicians” was offensive.

He pointed out a recent amendment in the Constitution, where the clause “Samoa is founded on God” was inserted into the body of the Constitution, and reiterated that it was a decision made by Parliament to support Samoa’s Christian values. 

“But the comparison reflects on how shallow the writer of the letter is that was signed by the Judges,” he said. 

“Was it a rugby game when Parliament decided to insert Samoa is founded on God that was on the preamble inside the body of the Constitution.”  

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