Lawyers call for action on case backlog

Lawyers Ruby Drake and Kirstin Kruse say they are still waiting on eight decisions dating back as far as 1995, as they call for an overhaul of the legal system to address the backlog.

Ms. Drake and her daughter Ms. Kruse - who work for the Drake & Co. firm - told the Samoa Observer of their frustrations with court delays leaving clients waiting years for closure. 

The pair said that a further eight long standing cases had been resolved only by last year. 

For more than 25 years, Ms. Drake says she has attempted to seek justice for her clients involved in delayed matters, including by petitioning the court registrar and the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration.

“I would expect, like most counsel, would expect that a decision [on a court matter] would be forthcoming in a reasonable time,” she said.

“You are not getting justice if you don’t get a decision. There is no use coming to court and then you don’t know [the outcome].”

Ms. Kruse said some clients have been so frustrated with the experience that they go and see the Prime Minister himself.

Ms. Drake represented the Vaivaimuli Corporation in an insurance dispute after National Pacific Insurance refused to pay cover for cyclone damage, in a case that took 22 years to first come to trial. It was overturned by the Court of Appeal last week. 

In its decision, the Court of Appeal recommended that the Government pay the two parties’ legal costs. Ms. Drake agrees.

“It’s only fair, this was brought about by the judge. [My client] waited for a long time, the judgement for their win was very short-lived. I think the Government is responsible for payment of the costs.”

She was unable to say how much the costs could be, as it is yet to be determined how far back costs are allowed to be calculated. 

Meanwhile, Ms. Drake is still awaiting the decisions for two cases that began in 1995, two cases from 1997, two from 1998 and one case each from 1999 and 2001.

The lawyer is calling for tighter monitoring of long-running cases to raise flags when they reach an unacceptable level of delay. 

Ms. Kruse said she understands that Samoa’s court system is overwhelmed and that judges are often working back to back to adjudicate multi-day cases with no time to write their considered decisions.

“I am aware that there are systems in place for overseas jurisdictions where there are checks and balances in place to make sure we don’t have such a situation occur,” Ms. Kruse said. 

“If a judge is overworked they should be pulled out of rotation so that they can focus on any outstanding decisions.” 

The two lawyers said three months would be a reasonable timeframe for clients and their legal representation to have to wait for a reserved decision. 

Ms. Drake said she had preferred to keep this problem out of the public eye for so long to protect the integrity of the courts. 

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