A.G. lawyers support Law Society

Lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office were given the green light to sit in on Friday to support the Samoa Law Society’s submission opposing three proposed bills before Parliament. 

Lawyers from the Attorney General’s (A.G.) Office told the Samoa Observer on Friday that they were told on that morning they were given consent to sit in to support the legal fraternity’s submission.

The news follows reports the Acting Attorney General, Galumalemana Loretta Teueli, in a meeting on Tuesday allegedly warned her staff against supporting the legal fraternity’s submission. Galumalemana declined to comment on those reports citing confidentiality. 

The President of the Samoa Law Society, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria, confirmed that he was informed that the A.G’s lawyers were now allowed to attend their evidence.    

The three bills which are the subject of the submissions are the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020. 

“Unfortunately we cannot comment [about the meeting] due to our confidentiality responsibilities,” Galumalemana said in response to queries about Tuesday’s alleged meeting.  

“In that regard we would like to note that whatever information that has been disclosed to you, was disclosed in breach of the confidentiality responsibility of your source (whoever that may be). 

“And to release it or to rely on it, would be continuing and contributing to that breach.” 

 Earlier this week, several Attorney General’s Office lawyers confirmed that the meeting was held specifically to warn them against supporting the Law Society’s submissions. 

 At the same meeting, the lawyers also claimed that they were asked to refrain from opposing the three bills before a Special Parliamentary Committee for review. 

“We felt threatened and oppressed from expressing our views or even supporting our own Lawyers’ Society,” said one of the lawyer’s.

Another lawyer alleged that they were told that should they decide to ignore their instructions, it will be taken as their resignation from their substantive positions. 

The public office lawyers have also alleged their online activities have been closely monitored. 

In response to recent queries from the Samoa Observer, Leiataualesa said S.L.S. has not been formally advised of such a meeting taking place. 

“However, all of the legal staff of the Attorney General's Office are current members of the Samoa Law Society and the Society will advocate for them whenever necessary,” he pointed out. 

“If it is true that any lawyers in any workplace feel ‘oppressed from expressing their opinions on the bills’ by their employers or colleagues, then we take this very seriously.”

“[That could be a] potential infringement upon a person's fundamental freedom of expression, association and assembly, which are protected in the Constitution”. 

The President added that in any situation where an employer, including the Government, seeks to place restrictions on these rights, care must be taken to ensure that such restrictions are lawful.  

“We would also view such treatment as potentially being contrary to the values and Code of Conduct of the Public Service (which also applies to the Office of the Attorney General),” he said. 

“Every public servant is entitled by law to a working environment that exhibits impartiality, where employees are "treated with respect and courtesy and without coercion or harassment". 

In a statement issued late on Friday night by the Government Press Secretary, the Government department referred to its refusal to comment on the contents of Tuesday's meeting: 

"As lawyers of the Government, employed in the [Office of the Attorney General (O.A.G.), all O.A.G. lawyers have an ethical solicitor–client duty to the Government (our employer) to ensure that the information and instructions in our possession are secure," the statement said. 

"This is an ethical duty required of us under our legal practitioner’s code of ethics. Therefore we cannot comment."

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