Lawyers must listen to complaints from the bench: A.G.

The Attorney-General, Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, says comments made by Judges on the bench should be received and acted upon by the Samoa Law Society. 

“Usually comments as such demonstrate the Judge’s frustration with matters not proceeding, because he’s quite right,” said Savalenoa. 

“We have two case management choices: we have [a] call-over system and court mention system.”

The comments followed frustration raised by the Supreme Court Justice Leiataualesa Daryl Clarke in relation to the increasing number of lawyers not prepared to proceed with matters to trial. 

That case refers to the forthcoming trial of Francis Sautiaimalae Molia, who is facing charges of murder and attempted murder, in relation to the death of an 18-year-old boy who was stabbed to death in town last year.

Justice Leiataualesa noted that the defendant’s counsel, Leota Tima Leavai, had sought an adjournment but the assessor’s trial was scheduled for five days.

The Judge expressed concern about the adjournment sought by the defence and asked why it had not been resolved during the case’s call over.

“The issue is that this matter should have been raised at call over so that the expense both to the Ministry and the cost of summonses, the witnesses and assessors is not being inconvenienced by this matter set down for hearing and not proceeding on hearing date,” said Savalenoa. 

The Attorney-General, herself a former Samoa Law Society [S.L.S.] President, said such issues should be reported to the Samoa Law Society. 

“And when comments are made by Judges, as [the Attorney-General’s Office] leading the bar we take that advice on board and then you communicate with the Law Society Council and do something about it,” said Savalenoa. 

Justice Leiataualesa in court at the time pointed to the court costs and called out counsels over their lack of preparation for their trials. 

“This is happening too often where counsel is ill prepared and comes to call over,” said Justice Leiataualesa. 

“We have called over for six weeks and time and again I am ready to proceed for hearing, and appear on the date of hearing and seek for the matters to be adjourned or vacated the defendants are ready the parties are here and people want their matter dispensed with.”

The Samoa Observer reached out to the S.L.S. President, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria, but had received no response as of press time. 

The Attorney-General said the case management systems in place for court proceedings are well known by lawyers. 

“The call-over system allows Judges, counsels, [the] Attorney-General’s Office and defendants’ counsel[s] to manage the matters so that everyone is prepared by the scheduled date or hearing,” Savalenoa said. 

“And now if you’re prepared by right the week before you say you are not prepared there must be a valid reason and there are valid reasons; sometimes, there are deaths in a family, or the key witness could not be found -  and, believe it or not, that happens despite the small size of Samoa.

“And something the day before, the week before a hearing there is further evidence and information that may change the defendant plea or may change the parties’ attitude towards the matter, they may no longer want to proceed with the hearing but they want to settle.” 

According to the Attorney-General, when problems arise relating to matters at hand a Judge can penalise the lawyer to recoup the administration of justice costs. 

“In cases like that what is available to the judge to do is use cost to penalize the party that wastes the court’s time,” she said. 

“In the administration of justice costs, it is often raised that it is a waste of taxpayers’ money, but it is never wasted because it is part of the administration of justice.

“The administration of justice is never smooth despite our efforts to make sure we have call overs to manage cases and manage the lawyers, witnesses, Police and all the services are aligned so a hearing can take place, something will always come up and that is the reality of life.

“And sometimes the Judges' frustration [relates to] factors that are beyond anyone’s control and it happens.”

Savalenoa noted that if such frustrations are raised too often, then the S.L.S. should address it within their association.  

“There are tools to manage [cases] to ensure that scheduled hearings are complied with and everyone comes to court to proceed with the matter,” she said.

Comment is being sought from the Samoa Law Society.

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