L.T.C. Judges to appear before Parliamentary Committee

Several Judges of the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) will appear before a Special Inquiry Committee to offer their views on the Government's proposed changes to make the Court independent.

The Judges are among close to 20 individuals and groups who have requested to make submissions to the Parliamentary Committee tasked to review the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020. 

An L.T.C. Judge, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions, confirmed that Judges from the L.T.C. “felt very strongly” about the proposed changes. 

“Those Judges have indicated they will make submissions before the Committee,” said the Judge. 

The Committee is likely to resume hearing of the submissions as early as next week, the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, said.  

But the Clerk could not confirm or deny reports that L.T.C. Judges were among those slated to appear before the Committee. 

“I cannot disclose the names of those from the public who wish to submit evidence,” said Tiatia.

“However, I can confirm as of today [Monday morning] we have received 15 request from individuals and two from groups who wish to make submissions.”

The two group submissions will come from the Samoa Law Society and Samoa First Political Party, which have each called to schedule a date to give evidence before the committee. 

Attempts to get a comment from the President of L.T.C., Fepulea'i Atilla Ropati, were unsuccessful on Monday. 

In 2017, a Commission of Inquiry tasked to investigate the work of L.T.C. Judges ordered the Judges to give evidence at the time. 

The Judges did not appear before the Commission. But the former Chief Justice, His Honour Patu Tiava’asue Falefatu Sapolu, addressed issues raised by the Committee in a letter. 

The Inquiry was chaired by the now Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Lopao’o Natanielu Mua, and made several recommendations for the Court’s restructuring. 

The Committee urged Parliament to appoint two Vice Presidents of the L.T.C. to assist the Court’s President.

Its other recommendations included imposing a legal time frame to deliver decisions; having written rulings be delivered within seven days of a matter’s conclusion; and ending the practice of Judges accepting gifts and food during inspection visits.

Those recommendations formed the basis of amendments in a proposed law: the Land and Titles Court Bill 2019.  

That Bill was withdrawn by the Minister of Justice and Courts Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u, last month in Parliament. 

Following the withdrawal of the Bill, three new proposed Bills were tabled: the Constitution Amendment Bill, Judicature Bill 2020 and the L.T.C. Bill 2020. 

The newly appointed Special Inquiry Committee tasked to review the Bills is chaired by Member of Parliament, Gatoloaifa’ana Amataga Gidlow who will serve alongside seven other M.P.s as panel members. 

Those M.P.s include: Namulauulu Sami Leota, Sulamanaia Tuivasa Tauiliili, Faaulusau Duffy Stowers, Fuimaono Teo Samuelu, Leaana Ronnie Posini and Ili Setefano Ta’ateo. 

The Legislative Assembly will make use of teleconferencing facilities for online submissions due to state of emergency restrictions banning gatherings of more than five people. 

According to the Clerk, the hearing of submissions from members of the public will likely resume next week but most likely in an online setting. 

Tiatia explained that because there are more than five Committee members they have setup laptops for the M.Ps for the teleconference. 

The Clerk said that the committee Chairperson would likely be physically present together with an applicant in the hearing room, while other panel members will connect via teleconference. 

The system is to be trialed by other Parliamentary committees before it is rolled out for the Special Inquiry Committee.

Tiatia said that the Parliament was seeking to make arrangements for members of the public who did not have the equipment necessary for teleconferencing but still wished to make submissions. 

The Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 was tabled in parliament last month with the Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020. 

The Clerk said proposed amendments to the Constitution require three months’ consultation before they can be referred back to Parliament for a third reading. 

But given the state of emergency orders and restrictions, Tiatia said it is possible that consultation for the Bills will likely be extended.


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