Delayed Court decisions raise alarm

Last week, the Court of Appeal delivered its decision on a court case that was first heard 22 years ago, in what the Queen's Counsel appointed to the case believes is the longest delay among Commonwealth nations.

It is the latest in a string of hefty delays in the delivery of Court decisions under the watch of former Chief Justice Patu Tiava'asu'e Sapolu. In 2019, 11 old Supreme Court cases finally saw judgement day, with one as old as 18 years.

Seven of the cases were closed ten or more years after the original hearing date, while three cases waited closer to five years.

In nine of the cases the original hearing date was not listed the official court records of the decision so the true extent of the delay is not known.

In its decision over the 22-year-old case of National Pacific Insurance Limited and Vaivaimuli Corporation Limited, the Court of Appeal titled its judgement: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’

In an interview with Radio New Zealand, lawyer for Vaivaimuli Corporation Limited, Ruby Drake, said judges need more rules or regulations over decision making.

"We have a new Chief Justice and we are hoping that the judges will take into consideration what the Court of Appeal has said, that there should be some regulations or rules to guide the judges on the issuing or their reserve decisions."

Ms. Drake also represented clients in seven out of the 11 outstanding Supreme Court cases decided on in 2019.

For three of the decisions, made 14 years, approximately 15 and 17 years after original hearing dates, defendants and legal representation died before their case was closed.

Another decision was a nine-year wait on costs, only for both parties to be told the other would not be expected to pay up.

In one hearing over a strike-out motion for a claim over unpaid rent in 2003, parties waited 14 years before the motion was denied, restarting proceedings, while in another, parties waited five years before part of the strikeout motion was passed, leaving one of two defendants left to deal with the matter of costs.

The oldest case closed last year was that of a NZ$19,000 claim for services the claimant alleged had not been paid, which was most likely heard in 2001.

Between now and then, the defence counsel left Samoa for a job overseas, and inflation means NZ$19,000 in 2001 (T$32,571) is worth around NZ$28,079 today (T$48,137) (not accounting for fluctuations in the conversion rate).

A 13-year-long wait on judgement over a land dispute resulted in a complete strike-out.

The Samoa Observer understands there remain many outstanding cases whose hearing date was 18 months or more ago, which makes them “extremely delayed.”

There is no public record on which cases remain outstanding and for how long. 

Among the cases awaiting decisions are those where a hearing is complete and the parties have filed their submissions on what costs they want from the other, and are now awaiting a decision on these submissions. 

The Samoa Law Society has been approached for comment. 

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