Clerk responds to L.T.C. Bills consultation claims
The Clerk of the Legislative Assembly, Tiatia Graeme Tualaulelei, has confirmed that there was no public consultation before the Lands and Titles Court Bill 2019 was tabled in Parliament.
The bill was later withdrawn and replaced with the Land and Titles Court Bill 2020, the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020 which proposes to establish a parallel and independent L.T.C. Court.
Tiatia said the 2016 L.T.C. Parliamentary Inquiry Committee into the work of L.T.C. was unable to carry out the public consultation process due to request from the Attorney General’s Office.
“There was a notice for people to come and make submissions [at the time] on the Land and Titles Court Inquiry report [dated 2016],” he said in an interview with the Samoa Observer.
“The Committee did not continue its public consultation work to go out in the community because the Attorney General’s Office had informed us that there are new bills that will replace that bill [L.T.C. 2019].
“It is still in the consultation stage where all the witnesses [from 2016 L.T.C. Inquiry] will give evidence again as there are difference in the initial bill [L.T.C. 2019] from what is being tabled.”
The three new bills were referred to a Special Parliamentary Committee in March after the Minister of Justice, Courts and Administration, Fa’aolesa Katopau Ainu’u moved a motion to withdraw L.T.C. Bill 2019.
According to the L.A. Clerk, the Attorney General’s Office and the taskforce that drafted the new bills will appear before the Committee to explain the difference between the initial bill and the three new one in parliament.
He added that following the hearing of submissions, the public consultation in communities will follow after.
An email was sent to the Acting Attorney General, Galumalemana Loretta Teueli requesting for a comment was not responded to by press time.
Former Attorney General, Lemalu Hermann Retzlaff in response to queries from the Samoa Observer said in terms of consultation, he noted it originally stem from the Inquiry in 2016.
The Committee sat for 10 months in 2017 – 2018.
“The public at large, private citizens and all public servants were invited to take part,” said Lemalu.
“The proposed Court can be seen to be an attempt to deal with (inter alias) the high number of grievances families reported with reference to their matai titles and family disputed customary land during the inquiry.”
Concerns of proper consultation was an issue raised by the Criminal and Civil Court Judges in a letter earlier this month.
In that letter addressed to the Samoa Law Reform Commission, dated 6 April, the Judges said it was unacceptable that apart from one meeting with the Acting Chief Justice and a general discussion on the bills, the proper process of public consultation was not followed.
“The usual and proper process for detailed consultation and discussion of draft provisions concerning Constitutional changes affecting the Judiciary and the protection of the Fundamental Rights of all citizens of this country was not initiated prior to the submission of these Bills to Cabinet,” the Judges wrote.
“This was the procedure previously adopted and followed by Government.
“We are perplexed as to why this has now changed.”
In June 2016, parliament passed a resolution to establish a Special Inquiry Committee to consider the rules and procedures of the Land and Titles Court.
It was tasked to make recommendations to improve the L.T.C. specifically rules and procedures of the L.T.C. to be transparent and accountable.
“The process should be designed to discourage the adjournment of cases and to establish guidelines and transparent processes to appoint L.T.C. Judges on periodic terms,” says the L.T.C. Bill 2019 explanatory memorandum.
“In response to the recommendations of the Committee the Government has drafted the Land and Titles Bill 2019 to repeal and reform the Act.
“Other recommendations of the Committee will be addressed in separate Bills to follow, regulations, and rules of procedures which will be drafted and made after this Bill has been passed.”
The L.T.C. Bill 2019 had sought to address some of the recommendations from the 2016 Committee to establish three tier Court: Court of First Instance, Court of First Appeal and Court of Final Appeal.
The same bill also proposed the three tier Courts will be presided over by a legally qualified professional appointed as President, Assistant President and Deputy President.
“In summary each tier of the Land and Titles Court will be presided over by a legal professional,” the L.T.C. Bill 2019 proposed.
However, the new L.T.C. Bill 2020 that replaces the first L.T.C. bill seeks to regulate the L.T.C. and “to support Constitution Amendment Bill 2020 which sets up a more autonomous Land and Titles Court framework”.
According to the proposed L.T.C. Bill 2020 explanatory memorandum, “while the Constitution sets out the new framework, the bill details the running of the Courts, and provides helpful guidance for all potential users of the Court, which is the Samoan population”.
“This includes provisions on the processes of each of the three Courts in the framework, administration and the general daily operation of the Courts,” proposes the L.T.C. Bill 2020.
“Through the new framework, Samoa attempts to further emphasize the importance and uniqueness of Samoa’s tu ma aganuu and her customary land and Matai titles, by affording it the specialist nature it was intended to have.”