Delayed decisions and what could happen if L.T.C. bills passed

The President of the Samoa Law Society, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria, has confirmed the Court administration has begun work to set a time frame for judges to deliver decisions in order to address issues of delayed rulings.

A recent decision from the Court of Appeal that ruled on a 22-year-old case urged the court to “as soon as possible develop and promulgate a protocol for judges concerning expectations for timely delivery of judgment”. 

The decision that was delivered after an “extraordinary period of over 22 years since the trial” is one of over 20 decisions that were reserved.

The Court of Appeal – in the case of Vaivaimuli Corporation and National Pacific Insurance – states that “we are not aware of any problem of delay in giving judgement by any other Supreme Court Judge.”

In light of the issue, the President said that this does not necessarily mean that there is a problem in Samoa’s justice system. 

In an interview with the Samoa Observer, Leiataualesa agrees that 22 years is a very long time to wait for a decision. 

But he said the delay judgments as observed by the Court of Appeal is restricted to one Supreme Court Judge that has retired, not all the judges. 

“What the Court of Appeal made clear is that they do not observe the same problem across the board; it's just with one particular judge,” he said. 

“So there is restricting of the issue there and secondly I’m aware there is already work being done with court administration to set timeframes for delivery of decisions so that this sort of issue can be addressed. 

“It may not be visible with the general public now but I understand it’s being undertaken by those officials…” 

He said the Vaivaimuli and N.P.I. case is a clear example of what should happen in a functioning justice system. 

“You get the decision from the Supreme Court and see it's problematic because the lawyers involved identified there may have breached their clients right to fair trial, the issue of soundness and how safe is that decision,” he said. 

“What lawyers did immediately after receiving the decision, one filed an appeal and the other filed a cross appeal. 

“So the Court of Appeal [in Vaivaimuli vs N.P.I.] case says we are overturning this decision because it's unsafe. 

“That is a sign of a justice system that works, that we are able to appeal and get a decision overturned.”

Leiataualesa then drew attention to the three controversial bills that will make the Land and Titles Court autonomous and what it will mean for delayed judgments. 

The bills to restructure the judiciary system are in the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, Land and Titles Court Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020.

He said the issue arising from the Vaivaimuli decision from the Court of Appeal is the importance of protecting Constitutional rights which in the case is the right to a fair trial. 

In acknowledging that a 22 years delay in the case is unfair on the parties involved and the Court of Appeal confirming there may be a breach of their Constitution rights. 

He said under the current law parties can seek remedies for breaches of their constitutional rights whereas the new amendments will bar that for those appearing in the Land and Titles Court for their matters. 

“One of the issues raised by the Samoa Law Society during discussions that there is a risk that we might be taking away that right for people going before Land and Titles Court matters,” he said. 

“The words of amendment in these bills that will go into Constitution clearly says that all rights in the Constitution, they are available for everyone but not available for anyone that goes before Land and Titles Court. 

“We believe that is a problem, it’s dangerous and there is a risk that you are taking away those people’s rights to a fair trial.” 

Leiataualesa added that what will happen if the bills get passed is families going before L.T.C. that might have to wait for 22 years, and will not be able to seek remedies for breach of rights to a fair trial. 

“The new Constitution and law says you can’t do that, those rights under the Constitution don’t apply to you anymore because your matter is before the Land and Titles Court,” he said.  

“That is the close link between the issues raised in this Court of Appeal decision and the issue that we are talking about the concerns with the bills.”

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