Law Society says P.M. "misleading"
The President of the Samoa Law Society, Leaiataualesa Komisi Koria, has denied claims by Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi that the Society abandoned its 2016 support for a Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) overhaul, saying they are "misleading".
The senior lawyer has also refused to respond to claims that the organisation’s leadership appears confused and possibly suffering from coronavirus, saying such behaviour from the Prime Minister is “for children”.
The comments come after the Prime Minister Tuilaepa scoffed at the Samoa Law Society's objection to the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020. Tuilaepa claimed that the Society has changed its position and be blamed "young lawyers" whom he said are not thinking like Samoans.
But during an interview with the Samoa Observer, Leiataualesa disputed the claims.
“It is unfair to the public that such false and misleading statements are made by our Government leaders, especially when such statements have no factual basis,” he said.
“Sadly, this type of behaviour from our leaders is a hindrance to any meaningful public discourse on what are seriously flawed Bills.”
Tuilaepa had said there was obviously “no unity” among S.L.S. members because they previously supported a 2016 inquiry into the L.T.C. but now were opposing legislation before Parliament to reshape it.
The three bills in question are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020; the S.L.S. claims that, if passed, the changes could undermine Samoa’s judiciary.
Tuilaepa also said the Society’s response to the bills gave the impression its leadership was unwell and perhaps suffering from the coronavirus and offered to fly them overseas for treatment.
“It appears they (Law Society) have the COVID-19,” Tuilaepa said.
“I don’t know about the Law Society, whether they are alright or what. Maybe they need medical assistance?”
According to the Prime Minister, when Parliament ordered a Commission of Inquiry back in 2016 to investigate the work of the Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.), the Samoa Law Society supported the resulting proposals.
But Leitaualesa contends otherwise.
“It is important that the record is corrected on these matters. It is true that the President and Council of the S.L.S. supported the 2016 Parliamentary inquiry by accepting an invitation to appear before it to answer questions,” he said.
“In the main, the Law Society was asked to comment on the process by which Land and Titles Court decisions may be reviewed by the Supreme Court.”
That process is known as judicial review and allows the Supreme Court to examine decisions by the L.T.C.
Distinct from appealing the arguments raised in a case, a review involves the Supreme Court examining whether proper procedure was followed.
“The 2016 Inquiry report made a total of 30 recommendations, based on 145 oral submissions and 42 written submissions from interested parties,” Leiauataualesa said.
“One of those recommendations [number 16] stated: ‘that the [judicial review] persevere as part of the Supreme Court to adhere [protect] fundamental rights of all Samoan citizens’.
“The Bills that are now before Parliament do the exact opposite and remove judicial review of L.T.C. decisions from the Supreme Court.
“This removes an important protection for Samoans who feel that their constitutional rights (such as the right to a fair trial) have not been observed in the L.T.C.
“This is one of several problems that the S.L.S. has been identified in the Bills.
“The representations made by the SLS in 2016 do not contradict the position that the SLS is now taking in relation to these Bills.
“This statement by the Prime Minister, like many other statements about the way that these Bills were developed, is untrue”.
In response to comments that the S.L.S.’ leadership appears to be suffering from the coronavirus, Leiataualesa said there were more pressing things to do than to reply to personal insults.
“The Samoa Law Society will not engage in an exchange of personal insults with the Prime Minister of our country,” he said.
“This behaviour is for children, and the Society is more concerned with Samoa's future as a functioning democracy.
“The members of the Samoa Law Society understand the ‘spirit’ of these Bills, which, according to the Government, is to preserve our culture and traditions.
“However, they also understand the details of the Bills, and are able to say with certainty, having studied them carefully, that these Bills will not achieve their objective.
“These bills will not preserve, they will destroy, and they will destroy far more than just the ability of our Courts to preserve and protect our culture.”
The President said the S.L.S. will continue in its efforts to inform the public of the potential impacts of these bills. Senior members of the S.L.S. will continue to appear on the mainstream media, educating members of the public on the ramifications of the Bills to the Constitution of Samoa, as a result of these proposed amendments, he said.