Lawyers stand ready to challenge L.T.C. changes

The Samoa Law Society says it will not sit idly by if the three bills to restructure the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) are passed into law. 

On Wednesday, the Society had their final meeting with a Special Parliamentary Committee soliciting feedback about proposed changes outlined in the Judicature Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020 and Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020. 

(Collectively the bills would make the L.T.C. autonomous and beyond the scope of judicial review by the Supreme Court. They are at their second reading stage of the parliamentary process and the committee will report back before they continue). 

During their press conference following the meeting the Society was questioned by Ame Sene, a Radio Polynesia presenter, if they were prepared for the bills’ potential passage.

“What else will you do, you are the [representatives] of the people who are against these bills. Is there another option?” Ms. Sene said.

After a pause in the room, senior lawyer and Former Attorney General, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu said: “At the end of the day, we’re lawyers.”

“As you have recently with the Electoral Act, there is still an opportunity,” she said.

“I think there is always hope as long as long as the Constitution that allows us the ability to seek the review of legislation that we think has breached our rights.”

Another senior lawyer, Fuimaono Sarona Ponifasio, added that the Constitution provides the potential that is needed, as the founding law that supersedes all laws. 

“So as you have asked, what is the next step if these bills continue to be passed as the Government feels then as you have heard [from] Taulapapa, it is our duty as lawyers to review and look at the constitution to seek out our next steps if there are any other steps available,” she said.

Taulapapa who chaired the Society's Committee to respond to the bills said the constitution and the Supreme Court are always available for the people of Samoa should a challenge to any passed legislation be mounted. 

“Whether or not we decide to do that or whether individuals decide to do that, I think that will have to wait if they’re passed or not,” she added.

“Our request was for these bills to be withdrawn. If not, and they get passed, then we’re going to have to look at that and decide what to do about it.”

She added that the Society had only heard about the bills when they were introduced in Parliament, noting that the Attorney General’s Office did not follow proper procedure of consulting with the Law Society before drafting the three bills.

“There is also a direction in there from the Prime Minister to refer matters in draft bills to the Samoa Law Society, all this was trampled upon, it was not done,” said Taulapapa.

The issues highlighted during the meeting with the Committee included the removal of the ability of people who go before the Lands and Titles Court to enforce fundamental human rights as protected under the Constitution.

The Society also expressed concerns about the removal of the L.T.C. from the supervisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.

Concerns were also raised about the new L.T.C.’s remit to define customs and usage. 

Society President, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria said, in other words, the Government will have a say in defining what is our culture.

The fourth concern is the effects of the bills on the independence of the judiciary by removing job security for justices. 

Lastly, is the effects the three bills can have on the separation of powers as protected under the Constitution.

"The main concerns by the Law Society are that the democratic principles that are protected under the constitution will be affected and diluted as a result of the clear passage of these three bills," Leiataualesa said.

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