L.T.C. changes fix problems that don't exist: Lefau

Former Member of Parliament, Lefau Harry Schuster, says the Government has failed to make a convincing case for three bills proposing to overhaul Samoa’s judicial system. Lefau, who is a lawyer by profession, made the comments during the EFKS TV2's weekly Soalepule Programme.

The bills in question are the Constitution Amendments Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020, and the Judicature Bill 2020. 

Together they would create an autonomous Land and Titles Court (L.T.C.), the decisions of which would not be subject to review by the Supreme Court. 

Lefau said the bills do not specify where the current Court system is falling short and how a reformed judiciary would remedy these failings. 

"In my view, for example, in the Lands and Titles Court, 80 per cent of the cases are appealed, and of that number, about 85 per cent is due to the inaccurate interpretation of the law,” said Lefau.  “Only ten per cent is really about the judgment relating to culture and traditions.”

Lefau said the Government's position is the bills will give Samoan custom and culture its due place in the eyes of the law.

But he said that is not reflected in the contents of the law. 

"With what I saw in there compared to these bills; the Courts say appeal cases are rising, and with what I would suggest as a remedy is to increase the number of lawyers in the Court of First Instance pertaining specifically to the law and then provide reliable and relevant advice to those petitioning, on the types of questions they should ask and what not; that way they identify earlier where the legal differences lie," he said.

"The number of people's claims is also increasing in all the Lands and Titles Courts, and the remedy for that is to increase the number of judges. 

“You cannot expect faster results, which is the main concern when we do not have the numbers to do so; meanwhile, it's been done in other courts; when there are too many cases, they increase the number of Supreme Court Judges.

"What they are giving is, 'this is the solution' yet they do not tell us what the problem is. And within this so-called solution, people's fundamental rights are being stripped."

Lefau is standing against the Government in the April election as a candidate for the Faatuatua i le Atua Samoa (F.A.S.T.) opposition party.

"In my view, there is no other law more important to a Samoan than those discussed [regarding] the Lands and Titles Court,” he said. 

“For criminal courts, it isn't until you break the law that you are required to stand in court, the same with businesses and their civil claims

"But for us as Samoans, it is in relation to decedents and we are all involved, but with the way they are rushing [the passage of the bills], it is very inappropriate."

The bills would create a parallel and independent judicial structure, including an L.T.C. High Court and Court of Final Appeal and Review.

Lefau highlighted that removing the option of L.T.C. appeals to be heard in the Supreme Court is simply a wrong measure. 

"[The Supreme Court] is the only court that can deal with cases where your human rights have been affected; it cannot be done by the Lands and Titles Courts, that court is only for Samoan topics, but now they want to remove that," he said.

"The Government says that the Supreme [Court] Judges can now go to the Lands and Titles Court of Appeal; it's a good thought, however, the lapse there is that there is a mentality that all decisions delivered by these judges are fully accurate and correct.

"These Judges are not gods, in all honesty, I was also a Judge.

“I also had mistakes, there were appeals, and that is what they are for because it does not matter how smart you are, there will always be a mistake."

Lefau said that with the current court system a petitioner is able to pursue their case until every legal avenue is exhausted. But under the proposed court system "people will die unsatisfied knowing their rights were not properly exercised under this new legislation."

The bills would also have a Government-appointed Judicial Service Commission which will appoint and remove Supreme Court Judges.

The bills’ changes threaten to undermine the doctrine of the separation of powers, according to voices like the Samoa Law Society, Amnesty International, and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, among others.

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