Proposed Constitutional change "disaster"
A retired Supreme Court Judge, Justice Lautalatoa Pierre Slicer, has condemned a proposed Bill to create an independent Land and Titles Court as a “disaster” that would “destroy the concept of the rule of law” in Samoa.
The proposal before Parliament would amend the Constitution to make the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) an entirely autonomous body and branch of Government insulated from review by the Supreme Court.
But Justice Lautalatoa told the Samoa Observer on Saturday that the proposed amendment would betray the intention of the founding fathers who authored the nation’s constitution.
“The alteration to the Constitution would prove to be a disaster for Samoa and a betrayal of those wonderful and wise matai who gave the Constitution to the nation,” he told the Samoa Observer on Saturday.
“It would give to an elite the power of land and status and destroy the concept of the rule of law”.
Justice Lautalatoa Q.C. served on the Samoan Supreme Court for four years, ending in 2014.
Since then, he has served on the Supreme Court of the Australian state of Tasmania and been awarded an Order of Australia for his services to the Pacific and jurisprudence.
Justice Lautalatoa was honoured with a matai title by the Village of Satua and recently came out of retirement by the request of the Australian Government to help address a backlog of cases in the Tasmanian Supreme Court.
Under the proposal introduced to Parliament last month, the L.T.C. would be a parallel and independent judicial structure, including its own High Court and Court of Final Appeal and Review, removing the option to appeal L.T.C. decisions to the Supreme Court.
Last week in a collective letter, the judiciary expressed “grave concerns” about the risks of proposed changes to the makeup of the constitution and the courts.
But the newly appointed Chief Justice of Samoa, Satiu Simativa Perese, while declining to comment on criticism of the proposed Bills, said he appreciated the gravity of the changes. Satiu was appointed Chief Justice on 20 March after the position had lain vacant for some 10 months.
“I don’t think it’s very fair [for me to comment] because I haven’t seen the letter and what context of and it would not be fair of me to make a comment because it is a serious issue faced by the Government and the judges that wrote the letter,” said Satiu.
Satiu, who is yet to be sworn in as Chief Justice, told the Samoa Observer he needed more time to study the amendments, which were tabled before Parliament on 17 March.
“It hasn’t been passed and from what I’ve heard it’s now in second reading and now it goes back before the selective committee and a lot of work gets done during that process,” he said.
“I think the Samoa Law Society is working on a submission and that would be an important one to be submitted to the [Parliamentary] committee”.
The Samoa Observer has subsequently emailed a copy of the proposed amendments and the Judge’s letter to Satiu.
The views of the Samoan judiciary about the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 and The Judicature Bill 2020 were expressed in a letter dated 6 April.
In the letter, published last Sunday and co-signed by the nation’s Judges, they expressed dismay at plans to reshape the nation’s judicial structure and the “haste” with which it was introduced.
The Judges wrote the proposal has been “dangerously” ill-considered given its potential far-reaching effects on the nation’s Courts by splitting the legal system and creating a new branch of Government.
“This is a slippery slope and we are sure the Government does not want the Constitution to become the plaything of politicians,” the letter reads.
Judges of the Court will be summoned to appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee to elaborate on their views, the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi, announced earlier this week.
“The [Parliament] Committee will summon them to explain this [the letter],” he said during TV1's Taimi ma le Palemia programme.
Tuilaepa added that long delays at the L.T.C. put at risk Samoan cultures and traditions.
“This is the responsibility of the Legislative Assembly is to protect these sacred heritage in accordance to Samoan customs and traditions,” he said.
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.
The Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 has been referred to Parliament Committee for submissions before it goes for its third reading in Parliament.