Opposition parties criticise former Chief Justice support for L.T.C. bills

The leadership of two political parties, Tautua Samoa Party and the Samoa National Democratic Party, have criticised the decision by the  former Chief Justice, Patu Tiava'asu'e Sapolu, to endorse the Government's proposed measures to reshape Samoa’s judiciary.

The proposed changes are outlined in the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and the Judicature Bill 2020.

Patu had served as head of the Judiciary for the past 27 years. On national TV last week, Patu weighed into the debate about palagi laws versus Samoan laws as well as the issue of individual rights versus village rights.

From his experience, Patu said every time a matter is raised in the Supreme Court involving village rights and individual rights, the rights of the Village Council often suffered what he described as a "technical knockout."

That's because the Constitution favours individual rights over communal rights, Patu said.

But Tautua Samoa Leader, Afualo Luagalau Dr. Salele, objected to Patu's claims.

“Our stance remains the same, and it is that we object to these changes. Even if Patu has expressed his views, we beg to differ,” Afualo said.

“He’s also not forthcoming as we see it, he may have spoken on the bills already but what we are trying to push is why would the [judiciary] be separated?

“Why not bring their recommendations into better the current system and improve the service of this arm, but they are going all the way to break it up for something new.”

Afualo reiterated that separating the judiciary into two parallel court systems is not the answer.

“If they want to add more judges into the judicial review process then do so in the current system, it is even more expensive to separate the two and then add more judges on top of it,” he said.

“The fact that he said that the new changes will be cheaper, it is not true. The exercise they’re pushing for is going to cost a lot of the country and the budget.

“He is also saying it is going to be faster, we don’t believe that. What we actually want is a thorough court process with proper court processes for the honest truth to be revealed.

“Under the three current steps, I believe there is specialisation, though it may be longer but it is because they may be doing a thorough job and if they don’t have enough judges, then hire more.”

The Samoa National Democratic Party President, Vui Masinamua Seigafolava, says said the former Chief Justice should have spoken up when he was in his position. 

“It was during his term when they started this movement," he said. “For someone who has been handling and been the [Chief Justice] for so many years, during his term he would object to such things where individual rights are affected, and now he’s talking about communal rights."

Contacted for a comment, Patu declined.

The L.T.C. Court of Final Appeal and Review would be established by the bills and has jurisdiction to hear appeals from two lower L.T.C. courts, which will operate independently from the Supreme Court. 

Under the new changes, four judges will be presiding in this court.

The Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020 says Judges of the L.T.C. Court of Appeal shall be retired Judges of the Supreme Court of Samoa under the age of 75 years old, or such persons possessing similar qualifications.

A handful of former Supreme Court Judges might be eligible under the amendment subject to their availability. They include Patu, but also the former Supreme Court Judges, Justice Vaepule Vaemoa Vaai and Justice Lesatele Rapi Vaai.

Justice Vaepule resigned in December due to health reasons while Justice Patu bowed out from the judicial system in April last year at the age of 68.

Justice Lesatele, on the other hand, is working for the High Court of Nauru.

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