Justices must have clean criminal records: Lefau
Former District Court Judge Lefau Harry Schuster has called for a bill mandating that Judges do not have criminal convictions to place them on an equal footing with Members of Parliament.
Lefau made the comments after high-profile instances of political candidates having their nominations disqualified this week for reasons related to black marks on their Police records, including for driving offences.
The former judge questioned the equality in the character obligations Members of Parliament and Judges are required to meet.
“[A] criminal conviction bars you from running [as a Member of Parliament] but this does not apply to the judges,” he said.
“The similarity between the two is that in the law it says the High Court of Appeal in the land is Parliament only they can change the law.
“[Any case] after the appeal court, there is nothing you can do.
“The only way to change the law is by going to Parliament. It is the highest court of the land."
Lefau has declared he is running for public office under the Fa’atuatua ile Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T.).
Lefau said the standards of having clean criminal records should be equal across all branches of Government.
He added that it is presumed that lawyers that move up to be judges should not have criminal records.
Lefau did not refer to anyone in particular but stated that this is a lapse in the law.
“This oversight [...] is inconceivable that a person with a conviction could get to the bench,” he said.
Lefau read out the Judicature Ordinance 1961 which says: qualifications of Judges - (1) A person shall not be qualified for appointment as a Judge of the Supreme Court unless –
He possesses such qualifications as the Head of State, acting on the advice of the Judicial Service Commission, may prescribe; an (b) He has been in practice as a barrister in Western Samoa, or in an approved country, or partly in the one and partly in the other, for a period of, or for periods amounting in the aggregate to, not less than 8 years.”
Lefau said that as a lawyer it was inconceivable that a person with a criminal conviction or has had a judgement against them could be appointed to the bench.
But because it is not in the law that it is entirely possible.
He said the law should be amended to reflect that Judges cannot be appointed to the bench once they have criminal convictions.
In April 2019 the Appeals Court convicted President of the Lands and Titles Court (L.T.C.), Fepuela’i Atilla Ropati.
The matter involving Fepuela’i came before the District Court, where the President was discharged without conviction for smashing a bottle over the head of a security officer during a function.
In addition to the conviction, Fepulea’i was fined $7000 in a decision made by Justice Robert Lloyd Fisher, Justice Rhys Harrison, Justice Graham Ken Panckhurst, Justice Vui Clarence Nelson and Justice Keli Tuatagaloa.
The President was placed on suspension. But in July 2019 the suspended President of the L.T.C., Fepuela’i Atilla Ropati, was reinstated to his position following a vote in Parliament.
The outcome of the vote did not meet the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for Parliament to terminate the services of the President.
Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa who last month resigned from her job and the Human Rights Protection Party.
In a subsequent interview she noted the failure last year to secure the two-thirds majority in the Parliament to end Fepuela’i’s judicial career was one of the events that led to the beginning of her disillusionment with the party.