Lawyer dismisses Court interference claim

A senior lawyer has dismissed claims that the plan to create an independent Land and Titles Court is to avoid interference from the Supreme Court on decisions handed down by the L.T.C.

Former Assistant Attorney General (Civil Division), Muriel Lui, said while the Supreme Court has the power to overturn a decision from L.T.C., that only happens when a fundamental right is infringed. 

Ms. Lui said the only way that an L.T.C. decision is taken to the Supreme Court to review if one of the parties feel their fundamental rights such as a right to fair trial has been breached. 

“So this reasoning for these three Bills being drafted so that there will be no more interference from these “palagi” Courts over matters of customary land and titles is wholly unfounded and misinformed,” said the senior lawyer. 

“The Supreme Court and Court of Appeal have always emphasised their reluctance to interfere with Land and Titles Court decisions and will only do so in very limited circumstances where there has been a breach of fundamental rights.”

Since the establishment of L.T.C. Court, Ms. Lui said there have only been three decisions that she is aware of that were successfully overturned by the Supreme Court. 

Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi maintains that the proposed changes were good intentions from Government to address grievances from the public who have lost rights to customary land and titles because of unjust decisions from the Court. 

Tuilaepa said the President of L.T.C. should have the final decision on the cases before the Court claiming he understands the cases better. 

He added the Chief Justice spends too much time on the palagi Courts (Criminal and Civil Court).

Under the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, one of the provisions removes the right of any person with a matter before the Land and Titles Court to seek remedies for breach of their fundamental rights in the Supreme Court. 

Instead, the proposed changes will establish an entirely new Court structure, creating a L.T.C. Court of Appeal presided by retired Judges of the Supreme Court. 

The proposed L.T.C. Court of Appeal will have the final say over any customary land and titles decision as opposed to current system that people can appeal it in the Supreme Court. 

But Ms. Lui said the opportunity for another party to appeal a case on the question of a fair trial before is voided under the proposed bill. 

She used an example of a Judge recusing himself from hearing a matter due to conflict of interest and had the file allocated to another judge. 

The senior lawyer said in a matter where the file had come back to the same Judge who has now decided to preside the matter one of the parties involved will not be able to question the breach of a right to a fair trial. 

She warned that the proposed changes will have a rippling effect on the future generations and it is everyone’s responsibility to protect it. 

For someone like her who is not actively involved in her family’s business in terms of land issues, Ms. Lui said despite this she has to think of her children’s future and their interest. 

“It is our responsibility to ensure that our children’s cultural birth-rights are protected and to ensure that they grow up to enjoy the rights and freedoms that every person should enjoy as part of their human rights,” she said. 

“These three bills threaten this legacy that we want our future generation to enjoy, and we have a duty to make sure that we fight against it.

“The effects of these laws may not be felt so much in our lifetime, but it will definitely be felt during the lifetime of our children and their children.” 

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