L.T.C. bills pass Parliament

Despite strong opposition from the nation’s lawyers and Judges, the Government on Tuesday passed into law three bills that will fundamentally reshape Samoa’s judicial system and amend its constitution. 

The bills passed in Parliament on Tuesday evening are the Judicature Bill 2020, Lands and Titles Bill 2020, and the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2020. 

Votes on the bills yielded 41 votes in favour of their passage and four against. 

Parts of the amendment include the creation of an independent and autonomous Land and Titles Court, the decisions of which could not be appealed to the Supreme Court. 

But the Government removed one element from the original bills: a plan to place a cap of five on the number of high chiefs in a family. 

That cap has been removed from the legislation with the duties placed on families’ high chiefs instead. 

Someone with a criminal record with a penalty up to seven years, can become a chief if the majority of the family agrees that him or her should become a chief. 

The passage of the bills was made during Tuesday’s Parliamentary sitting that started in the morning with time extended from 1pm and concluded in the evening. 

When a Special Parliamentary Committee report into public feedback on the proposed changes was tabled before Parliament, the former Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mataafa, and M.P. La’auli Leuaatea Polataivao requested additional time to consider amendments proposed by the committee. 

That request was denied.

This week former Attorney General Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu, a partner of Latu Lawyers, informed the Office of the Attorney-General of their intention to challenge the bills’ legality.

The legal challenge rests on clients’ fundamental rights, Taulapapa said.

The Supreme Court will be asked to consider whether the proposed changes to the justice system, and the treatment of the judiciary is allowed under Samoa’s constitution.

Among the constitutional issues identified include the proposal to remove the Land and Titles Court from the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, the court responsible for upholding the constitution.

In her letter to the Attorney General Savalenoa Mareva Betham-Annandale, Taulapapa wrote that her clients, who were not named in her letter, intended to file proceedings before the Supreme Court to challenge the legality of the three bills once they have been passed and given assent by the Head of State.

The bills drew significant criticism from international legal bodies including the United Nations' special rapporteur on the independence of lawyers and Judges. 

* This is a developing story.

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