Law Society "in the dark": P.M.
The Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, has responded to a plea from the Samoa Law Society (S.L.S.) to withdraw bills reforming the judiciary by suggesting the organisation is embarrassing itself.
Earlier this week the Society made an eleventh-hour plea to the Prime Minister to withdraw three bills that would make the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) autonomous.
Tuilaepa particularly criticised the S.L.S.'s Special Committee Chair, Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, a former Attorney-General who led the Society’s taskforce for reviewing the bills.
Despite her being the nation’s longest-serving former Attorney General the Prime Minister said it was too long ago since she was in public life: "a lot has changed since."
(Taulapapa served in the office for over nine years between 1997 and 2006).
He specifically took issue with the way the S.L.S. publicly delivered their concerns following their final meeting with a parliamentary committee seeking feedback on the legislation on Wednesday.
"In my view, they seem to have been infected with the disease of acting too hastily, and now they’ve just gone with it. They acted too hastily too soon and now they have continued to unnecessarily act making the English speakers think they are [right]," the Prime Minister said during his weekly 2AP programme on Thursday.
"The Samoan speakers are not the ones who they are talking to, they’re just playing nice with the English speakers, but they’re further embarrassing themselves."
Tuilaepa said he had taken a look at the concerns the Society raised that the proposed changes will diminish fundamental human rights protected under the Constitution.
"No rights are being removed, only the rights of Alii and Faipule (village councillors) that were non-existent were added," he said.
"They talked about the independence of the judiciary: who is taking it away? They really don’t understand."
The proposed changes are outlined in the Constitution Amendment Bill 2020, the Land and Titles Bill 2020 and Judicature Bill 2020.
The proposal, introduced in March, seeks to make the Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.) a parallel and independent judicial structure, including an L.T.C. High Court and Court of Final Appeal and Review, removing the option to appeal L.T.C. decisions to the Supreme Court.
The primary concerns raised by the Society included the lack of due process in introducing the bills to Parliament. The bills are at the second reading stage of Parliament.
Tuilaepa hit back saying the former Attorney General has been out of the Office for too long.
"[She] does not understand anything anymore, and yet she is still being acknowledged as a former Attorney General of the Government,” Tuilaepa said.
He noted that the Society should not have made a public appeal, arguing the Society’s role was not political.
"Come as a Member of Parliament, so you can play proper politics because that is not the actions of a smart lawyer, a lawyer that recognises the importance of the laws of a country, especially someone who was held highly in one of the offices of the Government," Tuilaepa said.
"She should have crawled to give their submissions, to acknowledge and respect the work of the office she used to head, but this reflects the large issue in there. She should have remembered that."
He proceeded to say the bills are the "answer" for consultations which were conducted in 2016 saying it is the remedy for the problems which were raised with the court.
"What they should have done is to submit their recommendations to improve the bills, if there is something to improve instead of publicly declaring it because now that they have gone public, it creates embarrassment," said Tuilaepa.
"This was highlighted when they pleaded to the lawyers overseas for assistance, it reflected that all local lawyers are half-baked, they have not been educated enough; because that is the assumption out there now."
The Prime Minister also dismissed the appeal by Law Society President, Leiataualesa Komisi Koria to the people of Samoa to reject the bills saying, "more than 80 per cent of Samoa have accepted it [...] where is it going to end?"
The issues highlighted by the Society included the bills removing 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 raised was the effects of the bills on the independence of the judiciary by removing job security for justices.
The society also said the three bills could have a negative effect on the separation of powers as protected under the Constitution.